New Zealand paralympian Rob Courtney, known as "the fastest man on wheels" during the early 80s, has died.

Courtney passed away at Middlemore Hospital this morning at the age of 55 after battling kidney problems for more than two decades.

Courtney, a pioneer of paralympic wheelchair racing, won 21 gold medals, 14 silver medals and five bronze medals at national and international competitions throughout the 1980s, including gold in the 100m wheelchair sprint at the 1984 Paralympics in England.

He also broke world records in the 100m and 200m events at the Fespic Games in Hong Kong in 1982, earning him the nickname of "Rocketman".


Courtney damaged his spinal cord in a flying fox accident when he was just 18. He was the first patient to be admitted to the then newly opened Otara Spinal Unit in 1977 and remained closely associated with the unit over the years, working tirelessly as a mentor for patients.

Having dominated on the track, Courtney turned his attention to other sports in the late 80s following a move to the United States in 1985. He began competing in distance events, including all the big marathons, and competed to a high level in wheelchair basketball and tennis.

It was at this time Courtney became the first disabled person in New Zealand to be honoured with being a Sports & Cultural Ambassador to NZ.

Since returning to New Zealand in 2002, Courtney continued to be heavily involved with disabled sport and recreation. He served on the board of ParaFed Auckland for more than a decade, and was an active volunteer with the Auckland Spinal Unit.

In 2010 Courtney was appointed to the Paralympics New Zealand's Order of Merit.