Marlborough athlete Nikau Peipi’s burgeoning sporting ambitions have received a welcome and timely boost.
The 15-year-old Marlborough Boys’ College student was informed late last year that he had been granted a 2020 Halberg Foundation scholarship to help him achieve his sporting goals as a Para athlete.
The Halberg Foundation is a charity, founded by former Olympic gold medallist Sir Murray Halberg in 1963, which aims to “enhance the lives of physically-disabled New Zealanders by removing or diminishing the barriers that prevent them from participation in sport and recreation”.
Nikau was born with Poland Syndrome which means his left arm and hand is under-developed and he has an under-developed chest muscle. Despite this, he has competed with outstanding success in a variety of sports, taking on able-bodied rivals on the softball diamond, plus the rugby and touch field. His ability to adapt and succeed at such high levels have earned the admiration and respect of team mates and rivals alike.
In his sporting life thus far he has relished meeting able-bodied competition, and had only a fleeting attachment to Para sport, travelling to Timaru for a swimming classification many years ago. However a trip to the 2019 Halberg Games has seen the teen realign his goals.
The Peipi family were contacted last year by Justin Muschamp from the Halberg Foundation asking if Nikau was interested in attending the Halberg Games as part of a Tasman team.
The Halberg Games are an annual three-day competition across a variety of sports, open to 8-21 year olds with a physical or visual impairment. Last October they were held at Kings College Auckland.
Although reluctant at first, Nikau, with the family’s encouragement, decided to go and came away with some startling results.
In his first time proper shot at track and field (apart from compulsory school events) he won the 200 metres (26.42), long jump (5.16m) and shot put (12.39) and placed second in the 100m (12.97).
His efforts saw him named best male athlete in the athletics field and the most promising athlete of the Games.
After that, local coach Ian Carter was recruited to help hone his skills. Following a few weeks training, Nikau attended the NZ secondary school track and field champs in Wellington, tackling the same events as the Halberg Games, plus high jump. Again his results were superb, winning the shot put (10.19, with a heavier shot) and the high jump (1.58m), and placing second in the 100 (12.81) and 200m (26.21) races plus the long jump (5.01).
Motivated by some inspiring feedback from those performances, Nikau plans to attend any track and field competitions that arise from his performances, whether they are New Zealand or Australian events, setting his goals on becoming a future Para Olympian.
All this costs money, so the extra funds from the scholarship are particularly timely. He has been given a purpose two scholarship, valued at up to $5000. To qualify athletes must be aged between 14 and 21, have a physical or vision impairment and be a New Zealand citizen. They must also have competed at the 2019 Halberg Games, be eligible as a Para athlete and hold a national classification. Local businesses Roofline Marlborough and Wadsco Mototworld have also pitched in to help Nikau on his pathway.
Nikau said he was fully-motivated to give Para sport his best shot after enjoying his time at the Halberg Games.
“After [Justin] got hold of me I thought I’d give [the Games] a go … and when I was there they were really cool so I just thought I’d start that now. I really enjoyed the environment.”
He has also relished working with coach Carter. “We are basically just working on technique at the moment. We are going to start doing some strength work later this year though.”
His other sporting pursuits are not completely off the radar, with the youngster trying out for the MBC First XV this season and still playing touch.
Nikau’s mother, Rebecca Grant, says, “[Para sport] has never been on Nikau’s radar in the past as he performs to a very high level with his rugby, touch, softball etc. But since attending the Halberg Games he has become very interested to see where this can take him.
“He came home talking about the Para Olympics in Paris in 2024 and would very much like to work as hard as he can to get there.
“The next 12 months is going to be a very exciting time for our family to see how well he can do with Para sports.”
Next up for Nikau is a trip in March to a track and field meet in Brisbane, where he hopes to earn a Para classification, which must be achieved offshore to allow him to compete internationally.
The scholarship recipients will be named at the 2020 ISPS Handa Halberg Awards in February.