The people of Whangarei have known for a long time that disability advocate Vanassa McGoldrick is a hero - and now she's gained national recognition.
Ms McGoldrick was named the winner of the 2013 Spirit of Attitude Award in Auckland on Tuesday night.
She was one of four Northlanders among 21 finalists in the seven categories. The others were Cameron Leslie, in the Sports Performer category, Glynis Collins in Making a Difference, and Loren Corbett, who won the Youth category.
Ms McGoldrick said receiving the award was a great honour, "particularly as everyone else in the room was so deserving of an award, too".
The Attitude Awards "are always such an amazing event to go to", she said.
Ms McGoldrick's sister Nola and her younger daughter Caitlin, 13, were with her on the night.
Her other daughter Tara, 15, could not be there as she was studying for her NCEA exams.
"It was so special to have them there with me. I wouldn't be where I am now without the support of wonderful family and friends," Ms McGoldrick said.
She was born with Nail-Patella syndrome, with no kneecaps or quadriceps muscles in her thighs. Although she has always been a gutsy person who refused to let her disability define her whole life, she could not go to law school after leaving school because the university didn't have accessible facilities.
Many years later, Ms McGoldrick, a solo mum of two teenage daughters and working as a legal executive, decided it was time to live her dream of becoming a lawyer. A correspondence study programme was tailored to suit her needs and, balancing work, motherhood and community commitments, she aced every exam. She was admitted to the bar last year.
Her disability advocacy work continues, including going with clients with disabilities to Work and Income and other agencies to fight for their rights.
In 2006 she convinced Whangarei District Council to give people with disabilities free parking in any space close to where they work, and to provide more disability parking and amenities.
She is chairwoman of Whangarei Accessible Housing Trust and has been on the governance bodies of CCS Disability Action at local and national levels, Whangarei District Council Disability Sector Reference Group, Northland Legal Executive Institute and Tiaho Trust.
She was a finalist in the Making a Difference category of the 2009 Attitude Awards.