It was a regular morning in the small town of Tikitiki in 1961.

Then 24-year-old Reuben Ngata woke up early to get the cows from the paddock, just as he always did.

But something wasn't right. He could hardly walk.

"I was lying there and I could feel all this tingling in [my left] leg then it started tingling in the other one," he says.


It didn't stop and Ngata feared for the worst.

"I knew that [my left leg] was dead, and I knew [the right] one followed suit and I thought it's going to start here and go up," he says.

"It was so close I reckon."

Ngata had lost function in both his legs forever.

He was diagnosed with Polio later that year and delivered the news that he'd be restricted to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

At first, it was difficult to see a bright future – particularly on the sports scene.

But that was before he was introduced to Para sport by a close friend. He took up Para athletics and just seven years later, gained selection for the first official New Zealand Paralympics team in 1968.

Ngata officially became New Zealand's 10th Paralympic athlete at the Tel Aviv Games.


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He continued to dabble in different Para sports before setting sights on his true passion – weightlifting.

"I was always interested in bodybuilding, from a little boy," he says.

"I took a fancy to weightlifting because it went hand-in-hand with my desire to be a weightlifter."

Ngata was selected to compete at the 1976 Paralympics in Toronto where he represented New Zealand in Para powerlifting, winning a bronze medal in the men's lightweight division.

He also competed in Para athletics and Para table tennis at the event.

New Zealand Paralympic CEO Fiona Allan and New Zealand Paralympian Reuben Ngata. Photo / Getty
New Zealand Paralympic CEO Fiona Allan and New Zealand Paralympian Reuben Ngata. Photo / Getty

Now more than 50 years since he first represented New Zealand, Ngata says he sees his disability through a new lens.

"I think this is probably a bonus for me," he says looking down at his strapped legs. "Or I wouldn't have gone to the Paralympics would I?

"I've been around the world three times, I've held a world record, I'm really proud of that.

"I worked hard ... all my life but I've loved every bit of it. My cup's overflowing."

Toyota is a major partner of Paralympics New Zealand, helping Kiwis to 'Start Your Impossible'.