Karleigh Jones has been bullied, stared at, and made to feel "weird", but walking in events throughout New Zealand makes her feel "equal".

The 25-year-old Gate Pa woman lives with autism, suffers constant tremors and has keratoconus - a progressive eye disease where the cornea thins and begins to bulge.

Her autism means she tends to yell, flap her arms, and spin around on the spot when she gets excited. But Jones said competing in walking and running events made her feel normal.

"People see me out in the community, and they judge me, stare at me, and students at uni think I'm weird because of my quirks," Jones said.

Advertisement

"Being on the autism spectrum, and with keratoconus and a central tremor it is not easy, but when I am doing these events I feel I'm not weird. I'm just a walker on the course like anyone else."

Jones' goals for the new year include continuing her social science and psychology studies at Waikato University's Windemere campus, walking the City to Surf half marathon, and completing the Cigna Round the Bays in Wellington on February 18.

Jones will be walking the 6.5km with her friend she met at Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology as one of the Achilles International New Zealand athletes.

Achilles is the official charity of the Cigna Round the Bays which helps Kiwis with disabilities take part alongside able-bodied athletes in local mainstream events.

She had not been able to train as often as she would like because the heat affected her tremors. But when she does train, Jones walks from Gate Pa to Greerton to do errands for her mum, and walking in the pool.

Jones started walking in 2015 after her nana suffered a stroke, prompting her to start looking after her health. She has since competed in many walking and running events throughout New Zealand, and she has finishing medals to prove it.

Her advice to other women living with disabilities who have been or are being bullied was to "find your place and find your people and your thing where you can thrive".

Jones' mother, Belinda Sullivan, said her daughter had been bullied right through school and it knocked her self-esteem.

"With this walking, I have noticed a big difference in Karleigh when she is out there, and people don't judge, they see her competing and finishing events, and she has met some lovely people."


Cigna Round the Bays
When: Sunday, February 18
Where: Wellington
What: A 6.5km fun run and walk, 6.5km Active Families, Mitre 10 MEGA Buggy Walk, Bluebridge 10km, or Cigna Achilles Half Marathon
For every registration, $1 is donated to Achilles New Zealand, the official charity of Cigna Round the Bays