Achilles NZ's mission is to support disabled Kiwis to participate in mainstream events to promote achievement, confidence, pride - and acceptance in society. I'm among volunteers at my run club, GetRunning, fundraising $45,000 to help the charity support nine inspirational disabled Kiwis do the New York Marathon on November 2.
Over the next 25 weeks I'll help guide a blind runner during training and also while in New York.
Among the team taking on this challenge of a lifetime, from Auckland to Invercargill, are paraplegics Mike Brown and Ian Walker and amputee Rob Martin, who has come second in the handcrank cycle race section of this marathon previously. Rob will soon be fitted with a blade and will compete in the marathon upright for the first time. League legend and amputee Tawera Nikau is also competing, as are blind runners Hannah Pascoe, Laura Eitjes and Mike Lloyd (who also has Parkinson's), accompanied by Leanne Byers (severe asthma) and Felicia Manase (cerebral palsy). Felicia will be the first Pacific Islander taking part in this marathon through Achilles NZ. I'll be among five guides helping these disabled athletes, including former All Black Frank Bunce, Newstalk ZB newsreader Niva Retimanu and GetRunning coach Kiri Price. Award-winning Pacific couture designer Lindah Lepou (who has works in Te Papa and London's Victoria and Albert Museum) will meet up with the team in to draw inspiration for a collection to be shown in New York next year and with proceeds going to Achilles NZ.
The goal of this mission is to see medals around the disabled athletes' necks - so they can draw confidence from their achievement and inspire others with impairments that they, too, can dream big.
I'm privileged to be among this team. Some might be missing limbs or sight, or struggle with other hurdles in life, but they are already heroes in my eyes for committing to the hard training through the winter months ahead.
Among those lining up for their first marathon is Mike Brown. Mike will never forget June 12, 2012. The skateboard he was riding and a car collided while he was on his way to meet his family at a park. As he lay, bloody and with his legs "at odd angles" on the tarmac, he remembers being asked "Sir, can you use your legs?" He knew instantly what fate lay ahead.
But rather than mourn being a paraplegic, Mike just keeps finding new ways to do the things he loves. Like adapting a surfboard and wetsuit for surfing, and having a special mountain bike made to ride. Mike confesses he is reminded every day of the reality "that I'm a paraplegic". But the former electrician is determined to live life optimistically and he is "excited" by the marathon challenge.
He has just received a loan racing wheelchair and is learning how to "slap the rubber on the wheel rims" to propel it forwards using "boxing-like gloves". It's "painful". The chair is uncomfortable. But he is determined to not just finish this marathon but "do the best I can do."
He is also excited to be part of a charity that makes a difference globally. He says the charity helps foster "that feeling of achievement, pride and acceptance that we all strive for. I'd love to see more disabled people out there." I can't wait to see the post-marathon smiles. Some organisations have already offered to help, including GetRunning and coach Gaz Brown, restaurateur Tony Astle of Antoine's, SOS Rehydrate and retailer Kathmandu. But more support is needed.