Hamilton's Alex Johnsen has been chosen as one of the eight New Zealanders with intellectual disabilities selected to participate in Special Olympics New Zealand's National Athlete Leadership Programme.

Special Olympics NZ offers year-round sports training and competition for people with intellectual disabilities in the community and at secondary school. More than 7000 athletes train with the organisation in 13 Olympic-style sports and compete locally, nationally and internationally.

As athletes grow in skills and confidence, some explore opportunities outside of sport. Others discover a passion for the organisation and want to spread the word, and the Athlete Leadership Programme (ALPs) offers this. ALPs encourage and support athletes to channel their confidence through public speaking, community engagement, working on committees and acting as ambassadors. To date, 55 athletes have graduated as 'global messengers' and have gone on to represent Special Olympics around New Zealand and abroad since the programme launched in 2010.

The 2016 class of global messengers are: Daniel Casbolt (North Harbour), James Bott (North Harbour), Lisa Donald (Nelson), Mohit Chand (Papakura), James Farrell (Hawkes Bay), Rochelle Waters (Canterbury), Michael Banner (Kapiti) and Alex Johnsen (Waikato).


Alex is supported by Hamilton-based charity Community Living. Community Living has been supporting people with intellectual disabilities to live their dreams through community connections for more than 26 years.

Community Living offers a range of individualised support services including supported accommodation, recreation, leisure and learning opportunities, employment, whanau/family support, occupational therapy and physiotherapy services, specialist disability family support, a range of respite options for families, buddy support and Regional Intellectual Disability Supported Accommodation Services (RIDSAS).

Spokesperson for Community Living, communications advisor Natalie Rutene says being chosen as an ambassador was a huge achievement of national significance for Alex.

Alex competes in both power lifting and basketball and is looking forward to taking part in the Athlete Leadership Programme.

"I am really proud of my achievements and am committed and excited about the future," he says.

Alex has already gained public speaking experience, making several presentations around the country about what it takes to go flatting after going flatting with a friend. He was asked to talk about his experience, and the challenges faced.

The athletes will begin their leadership training at workshops. The sessions teach public speaking, media liaison, presentation skills, speech writing, goal setting and leadership. They are supported by a mentor to make the most of their experience.

"Our national Athlete Leadership Programme is one of our most important initiatives in my view," says Kathy Gibson, chief executive of Special Olympics NZ. "Giving our athletes their own voice is vital. To see the confidence and skills our athlete leaders develop as they progress through the training is truly inspirational and I look forward to watching our newest leaders grow and become ambassadors for our organisation."