The short and tall of it is Maia Jones just happens to be a bundle of energy poised to take life to exciting new heights.

For Jones, simply competing at the annual Halberg Games with three other physically disabled and visually impaired young athletes Hawke's Bay was just another defining step in building a tensile template.

"I haven't been to a competition before," says the 11-year-old from Napier who lapped up everything from the time Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy declared the three-day games open during a ceremony at King's College in Auckland last Friday.

"It was great fun and a really good experience," says Jones, who is excited about the prospects of going to the games next year.


The games included a parade of athletes, karakia, lighting of an official flame and an athletes' oath before the closing ceremony last Sunday with the presentation of trophies and medals.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was among other guests who addressed 150 athletes, from 8 to 21, representing 12 regional teams across 20 different codes such as swimming, wheelchair basketball, blind cricket, blind and wheelchair rugby and athletics.

Having had a taste of the games, which Maori TV personality Te Arahi Maipi hosted, Jones is keen to do more as a "provisionally classified" swimmer in future games.

"I love being in the water because it makes me feel good," says the youngster who was born with achondraplasia, which is more commonly referred to as "dwarfism".

Standing 108cm, she often finds herself vertically challenged in the game of life but it's nothing she can't fix with a broad smile and a pretty please for help.

Conversely she equally enjoys the advantages that a short stature offers.

"I can fit into small spaces and I can just walk under things that my friends have to bend to do," says Jones who also plays netball and badminton.

Akin to two other teammates out of a contingent of four, she came away with a participation medal with Sam Harvey, of Pongaroa, near Dannevirke, and Joseph Curry, of Hastings.

Harvey, 12, competed in the power chair race while Curry, 13, participated in 100m sprint, 100m swimming, bocce and shot put.

Kimi Ora Community School pupil Curry, who has a birth defect that left him without digits on his stunted right arm, was competing in his sixth games where he finished second in the 100m sprint.

"I get to meet different people from different places," says Curry, who "gets on very well with one hand".

His mother, Cath, encourages him to have a go at myriad activities.

"He'll try anything and everything," she says of Curry who saw Ardern at the games but had already met her at a school camp last year.

"She's very nice," says the schoolboy.

Cath says her son looks forward to the games which offer him a chance to catch up with athletes from other regions who support each other.

Napier Boys' High School pupil Guy Harrison won the Paladin disabled sportsperson of the year award at the Hawke's Bay Sports Awards in May. Photo/file
Napier Boys' High School pupil Guy Harrison won the Paladin disabled sportsperson of the year award at the Hawke's Bay Sports Awards in May. Photo/file

Napier Boys' High School year 12 pupil Guy Harrison claimed four first places - in the 25m freestyle and backstroke as well 50m and 100m freestyle swimming events. He was second in the 75m medley.

The 17-year-old, who has cerebral palsy, won the 800m race in athletics and was runner-up in the 400m, 200m and 100m track events.

That gave Harrison the title of second best athlete overall at the games.

"It was a huge honour meeting the Prime Minister and we had a good chat," says the Year 12 pupil. "She's a very nice lady."

Harrison is delighted that para athletes will receive the same level of funding as other able-bodied athletes at the next Olympic Games.

"It is nice to see the Government is recognising our hard work and training," he says.

Northland, Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Gisborne, Taranaki, Manawatu, Wellington, Canterbury and Otago/Southland teams competed with the support of their regional Parafed.

The games include masterclasses, a film festival and other activities.

The Flight Centre Foundation ran a Nutrition Masterclass while Invacare brought Australian wheelchair racing Paralympian Rheed McCracken who joined an "Athlete Masterclass" with Paralympians Rebecca Dubber, Holly Robinson and Para athletics coach Raylene Bates.

Rheed had also conducted a wheelchair racing track session on Saturday.

Paralympics New Zealand was on site to identify talent and lead a session on pathways to Para sport.

"The launch of the Halberg Games heralds the start of not only three days of competition but an opportunity to experience the magic of sport through forming friendships and having fun," says Halberg Foundation chief executive Shelley McMeeken.

The Halberg Foundation is a charitable organisation Olympic legend Sir Murray Halberg founded in 1963. It aims to enhance the lives of physically disabled young people through sport and recreation.

The foundation's core work includes a team of regional advisers who connect physically disabled young people to sport and recreation opportunities.

It also delivers an inclusive training course and work with schools and sport and recreation organisations on inclusive programmes and events.