Young people with physical impairments ’empowered’ at Halberg Games in Christchurch

Laurie Sayers, 16, plays one of his favorite games, soccer, at the Halberg games, among about 80 participants in the South Island Halberg Games.

ALDEN WILLIAMS/Stuff

Laurie Sayers, 16, plays one of his favorite games, soccer, at the Halberg games, among about 80 participants in the South Island Halberg Games.

Young people with physical or visual impairments were given the chance to experience sports that many hadn’t been able to try before at a two-day event held in Christchurch.

The Halberg Games South – the first in a series of three regional sports festivals – was held on Saturday and Sunday at Ngā Puna Wai Sports Hub and Rangi Ruru Girls School.

The event, open to young people aged between 8 and 21-years-old with a physical or visual impairment, has traditionally been held at King’s College Auckland, but this year due to Covid it was held as three regional festivals in Auckland, Palmerston North and Christchurch.

The festival was a “huge deal” for kids who are not able-bodied, said Rachel Ruesink, mother of Isabella Ruesink.

READ MORE:
* Cerebral palsy no barrier to 8-year-old with a love of sport
* Blenheim teen bags three golds, one silver at Halberg Games debut
* Paralympics star William Stedman among Zonta Awards school sports finalists
* Ranfurly student off to Halberg Junior Disability Games

She said Isabella was just realizing she was different from other children, but at the games, “you can fit in in this environment and no-one’s judging you” which “definitely goes a long way when you’re 9”.

Isabella has achondroplasia, a form of dwarfism, which Ruesink said saw her have to do things “slightly different from able-bodied kids”.

Helper Aaron Clutterbuck, left, gives Isabella Ruesink, 9, a leg up as she gives gymnastics a go.

ALDEN WILLIAMS/Stuff

Helper Aaron Clutterbuck, left, gives Isabella Ruesink, 9, a leg up as she gives gymnastics a go.

“But nothing stops her, she gives anything a go,” she said.

More than 12 sports were featured at the festival, including shot put, discus, running, basketball, gymnastics, boccia, archery, football, badminton, swimming, cricket, golf, table tennis and croquet.

The games gave young people a chance to experience sports that many hadn’t been able to try before due to their impairments, Halberg Games sports advisor Mitchell Rhodes said.

It gives the participants a “belief in themselves” that they can be involved in sports, he said which is “really empowering”.

Connor Fa'asega, 19, takes a seat to compete in the boccia event with volunteer Kerri Loughead, left.

ALDEN WILLIAMS/Stuff

Connor Fa’asega, 19, takes a seat to compete in the boccia event with volunteer Kerri Loughead, left.

He said 80% of the more than 80 competitors involved this year had never been to a Halberg Game, or “an event like this before, so it’s really special”.

Holding the games as a regional competition would be under review for the future, but he said there was “a great need for it”.

Laurie Sayers’ mum, Toby Chambers, said having the games held in Christchurch made it possible for them to attend for the first time.

Spina bifida saw Laurie use his walking frame to take part in soccer and running, and one of his favorite sports, basketball, in a wheelchair, Chambers said.

“It’s really awesome they get to try sports they haven’t done before.”

Laurie, 16 said the festival was great as he got to meet others his age with disabilities.

“I don’t get to take part in team sports often.”

But he showed he was a team player by landing a shot in the hoop.

Chambers said her son told her he really enjoyed the “sportsmanship” of all the other players.

Connor Fa’asega, 19, is part of a sporting family, with brothers who play multiple sports, but with cerebral palsy affecting his right side, his mother Steph Fa’asega said the event gave her son “normality of going to games and participating” .

“It’s just enabling. If this wasn’t around, there wouldn’t be anything for them to do. It’s opened that door.”

Being surrounded by people at the same level “pumps him up and gives him confidence”, she said.

Without being around able-bodied competitors they evened out the game and concentrated on what they were good at, she said.