Nikki Preston

Nikki Preston is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Gold delivers paralympian to arms of NZ

Visually impaired cyclist inundated with speaking requests after triumphant Games.

Phillipa Gray is planning a two-month holiday to Melbourne to train with other cyclists. Photo / Christine Cornege
Phillipa Gray is planning a two-month holiday to Melbourne to train with other cyclists. Photo / Christine Cornege

Phillipa Gray's whole life changed when she won gold. As soon as the 23-year-old paralympian arrived back in New Zealand she was sought after for speaking engagements, and the demand hasn't died down.

All of New Zealand wanted to share in her success of winning gold with pilot Laura Thompson after the pair smashed the world record in London in the tandem pursuit qualification ride.

They also won a silver and a bronze medal.

"It's been pretty crazy ... I didn't expect the support from New Zealand either. I didn't expect that once you won a gold medal you became New Zealand's property and there are a lot more expectations of you.

"And it's amazing the people who actually want you to speak or listen to you speak," the visually impaired woman said.

The speaking engagements have taken her around the country including her old school, Turua Primary School near Thames, and addressing the Thames District Council at the launch of their new disability policy.

While staying at her parents' Turua farm in late November/early December, she had 10 speaking engagements in 11 days.

Ms Gray said she was a comfortable public speaker and spoke about day-to-day living with a disability.

But she was always taken aback by the quality of questions some of the young children asked, which included her inspirations, role models, food she ate, as well as how fast she went and if she ever crashed.

Since arriving back from London, she has also become the ambassador for the youth adventure programmes Outward Bound and the Spirit of New Zealand, which involved giving more motivational talks.

During the first few months after her victory, Ms Gray's training also went on the back-burner as she caught up on studies for the second year of her bachelor of therapeutic and sports massage and diploma in sport and exercise at the Southern Institute of Technology in Invercargill.

But by December the young Waikato woman was back training on her wind bike and planning a two-month holiday to Melbourne where she will also train with other cyclists as she sets her sights on breaking further records with her partner at the Road World Cup in the United States in April.

She was also hoping to get sponsorship to purchase a tandem bike, valued at about $15,000, to enable her to train on the road.

"Laura and I are both on individual training programmes so we don't train together that often, so it doesn't really affect what we do.

"We kind of have our own lives and come together when it's time to do business. And we work that in when it suits Laura at the cafe [she runs with her family in the Catlins]."

Ms Gray said she was also keen to compete at the paralympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, but was unsure who her pilot would be.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a1 at 14 Jul 2014 23:08:47 Processing Time: 316ms