Sport is an essential component of the genetic prescription of the family, something Shelley McMeeken had discovered from even her childhood days in Gore in the South Island.

How else can one explain the inherent sporting abilities of the McMeeken clan dating back to the last century.

No doubt, embracing other filial norms have helped form a template that saw Shelley McMeeken go on to become not just the face of New Zealand Netball administration but also drive the Halberg Disability Sport Foundation as its chief executive since September 2015.

"I was brought up in, one, a rural community and, two, in a household where my mother was the president of the local Plunket and a member of the local school board," she says of the late Linley Archer, who was a primary school teacher and died late last year.

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"I was brought up to think that it's always appropriate to give back. If you feel blessed for what you have then you should always share things so I don't think it was a particularly unusual pathway for me to take."

McMeeken will be the guest of the Eagles Golfing Society of Hawke's Bay during its 40th annual charity golf tournament, to help raise funds for children with disabilities, at the Napier Golf Club on Thursday, September 12.

"I just know, as a youngster, at all levels of high performance, how wonderful sports is, particularly team sports."

In essence, it all boiled down to the common denominators of "wellbeing and camaraderie" while engaging in sport that stuck with her.

"Sir Murray always talked about it. You know, he wanted everyone to have an opportunity with no exceptions, he used to say, so it's about equity for all, I guess," says McMeeken of Olympian Sir Murray Halberg who established the foundation to enhance the lives of physically disabled Kiwis so as to enable them to participate in sport and recreation.

It'll be her first Bay golf tourney but she won't tee off, instead arriving here at 3pm to meet and mingle.

"We're incredibly lucky that all the Eagles [societies] throughout New Zealand support this," she says. "It's a wonderful story and I call them the red jacket brigade because whenever you see them come to the [Halberg] awards they just stand out everywhere."

McMeeken finds it intriguing society members tend to have myriad stories on why they support the trust.

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"It's a wonderful, genuine national organisation," she says, looking forward to attending the society's fourth national convention here in 2022 although she attends all of them, including conferences.

"I feel privileged to fulfil Sir Murray's vision to enhance the lives of physically disabled young people," says McMeeken of Halberg who last visited Napier in 1983.

"I guess I'm very lucky, as I travel around the country to attend the Halberg Games and things like that, I get to meet some amazing young people. It's also such a unique way of bringing people together."

The foundation's advisers, trustees and life trustees become golfing ambassadors throughout the year at different centres.

"We've always known about these Eagles because for the last 15 to 16 years Sir Brian Lochore had also played and given his commitment and, generously, his time to do that so we're pretty delighted with that," she says, chuffed the Bay branch had marked a milestone 50th year last year in Waipukurau, having raised $362,000 to date through golf tourneys although the national drive has channelled "an outstanding" $5 million for the worthy cause.

The late Sir Brian Lochore, a regular at the annual Hawke's Bay Eagles Society golf tourney for 16 years, will be missed next month. Photo / File
The late Sir Brian Lochore, a regular at the annual Hawke's Bay Eagles Society golf tourney for 16 years, will be missed next month. Photo / File

McMeeken says that money goes into an activities funds although the foundation doesn't assume the mantle of funder and isn't a charitable organisation .

"All of the money goes directly to young people [with physical disabilities] for either trikes and bikes — as equipment — school camps or as lessons, such as swimming," she says, adding the cost of the modified bikes and trikes are significantly more than standard ones.

She emphasises the attributes of sport have a similar impact on the disabled athletes as it does able-bodied ones.

"It's not just about the fitness," McMeeken says. "It's actually about giving them leadership skills, a sense of belonging, confidence and fun because they just want to do sports alongside their mates, really."

Foundation advisers around the country — such as Brandon Woolley, of Hastings, who covers the Bay/Wellington area — work with teachers on adapting and modifying physical education and sport to enable those with impairment to assimilate with friends.

That sense of freedom enables them to garner strength to enjoy sport in the mainstream.

Beneficiaries in the Bay include Ella Brenton-Rule, 11, of Hastings, who has cerebral palsy which means she had some adaptive skiing lessons, through the society's funds, at Ruapehu skifields.

"We don't choose because the young people do as it's all about allowing them to make the same choice as their able-bodied mates."

Napier Boys' High School Year 13 student Guy Harrison, the school's golf team captain, also has become a Halberg Youth Council member with 10 others around the country in a bid to be the voice of the disabled young people.

The foundation's biggest fundraiser is the Halberg Awards, where the high performance and Para-athletes converge each year to honour accomplishments.

"There's a lot of giving back there and that is not required of them so, I think, it's a wonderful basis of our New Zealand athletes.

David Howie, of Hastings, is the society's national president and Jeremy Ballantyne, of Waipukurau, the national secretary.

The tourney will have a full field of 144, including the presidents of Wellington society, Terry Bastion, Manawatu-Whanganui Mike Jones and Bay of Plenty Royston Scholes as well as former All Black Andy and Lesley Leslie, of Boulcott Farm in Wellington, who will be a speaker in continuing the rugby theme.

McMeeken — whose regular Halberg newsletters are published in the Bay society's Golf Chat publication, including the 25th one due soon — is one of five siblings.

"I grew up watching Ranfurly Shield rugby," she says of the symbol of provincial supremacy in the country. Her father, the late Arthur McMeeken, a bricklayer, had represented Southland rugby while maternal uncle, the late Robin Archer, was an All Black.

The late Yvette Corlett (nee Williams), left, was reunited in 2000 with Shirley Berry (nee Cawley) 49 years after the former won a gold medal at the Helsinki Olympics. Photo / NZME
The late Yvette Corlett (nee Williams), left, was reunited in 2000 with Shirley Berry (nee Cawley) 49 years after the former won a gold medal at the Helsinki Olympics. Photo / NZME

Her mother had represented New Zealand in netball, competing in Fiji. She had competed alongside the late Yvette Corlett (nee Williams) in athletics.

"They grew up in Otago so I grew up hearing stories of the amazing Yvette Williams and how she became the first New Zealand woman to win a gold medal, in Helsinki.

"My mother used to talk about listening to her [perform] on the radio so, you know, things really do go the full circle, don't they?

"When I was growing up everyone was playing sport because that's what you did, really," McMeeken says.

Her sister, Jane McMeeken — a Christchurch District Court judge — captained New Zealand when representing the Tall Ferns basketball side between 1982-86.

Shelley McMeeken's nieces, Tessa Boagni and Kate McMeeken-Ruscoe, have also played for the Tall Ferns.

McMeeken represented her country in the inaugural under-21 netball team, playing alongside the likes of Waimarama Taumaunu who went on to become the New Zealand coach. She also played representative netball for Otago, Southland and Auckland as well as basketball for the South Island provinces.

Does she regret not going all the way to Silver Ferns and Tall Ferns level as a goal defence?

"I consider myself incredibly lucky to be in the under-21 team because it was all about the timing ... so it was a great experience," she says with a chuckle, believing she would have mutated into a wing defence in this era due to her shorter stature.

Former New Zealand basketballer Kate McMeeken-Ruscoe with mum Jane McMeeken in 2006. Photo / NZME
Former New Zealand basketballer Kate McMeeken-Ruscoe with mum Jane McMeeken in 2006. Photo / NZME

Her love of sport has no boundaries but she didn't think she was going to end up working in the field.

The netball age-group progression had exposed her to a rural and urban New Zealand psyche during an exciting era.

Under her reign as Netball New Zealand CEO (1999-2007), the code had started undergoing a renaissance of sorts.

"There was quite a lot going on and it was becoming a more professional and recognised game," she says. "It's wonderful for me to see so many of those players now turning up in a variety of different roles and still connected in netball, albeit in coaching or commentary, so I think it's excellent.

"Netball has a way of retaining people so it's cyclical and so wonderful to see them win [the world cup] again this year."

McMeeken reflects on how in 2003 the Silver Ferns had swept the Halberg Awards — the Foundation's major fundraising event — winning the sportswoman (Irene van Dyk), coach (Ruth Aitken), team and supreme award categories.

She hastens to add she isn't a member of the 30-member Halberg awards judging panel and has no clout in who will prevail but she is simply excited to see cricket, basketball and rugby can put up their hand for the gongs.

McMeeken, who has no children, also has served on the boards of the 2012 Triathlon World Championship, NZ Football and the Fifa U20 World Cup in 2015.

"My young niece just made the New Zealand under-20 football team that played in China," she says of Zoe McMeeken, the daughter of her only brother, Michael, the "baby" of the family.

Former Silver Ferns skipper Waimarama Taumaunu and coach Ruth Aitken went on to do netball proud at the Halberg Awards in 2003 before the former joined the coaching ranks. Photo / Photosport
Former Silver Ferns skipper Waimarama Taumaunu and coach Ruth Aitken went on to do netball proud at the Halberg Awards in 2003 before the former joined the coaching ranks. Photo / Photosport