All Fanletter

December 2020 Fanletter

Kia ora koutou! It’s our final Fanletter of the year and we have a lot of great news, from our first secondary school unified football event to athlete awards, club highlights, coach workshops and our celebration of a year to go until the National Summer Games!

Get stuck in with the latest news from the Special Olympics New Zealand community, including: 

Read on for the full articles

Reflections on 2020 and looking forward to the new year

Carolyn Young, CEO Special Olympics New Zealand

Meri Kirihimete! 

We made it, it’s been a hugely challenging year for everyone and well done for making it to the end.  I hope that everyone enjoys a break with whānau and friends over the festive season and takes some time to reflect on the journey that 2020 has been. 

I have learnt the joy of gratefulness and the importance to stay in the moment.  Thinking too far ahead in 2020 has proven challenging and there have been lots of times where we have had to re-do and re-think our mahi (work). Although Everyone in the world has experienced similar challenges,  it didn’t make it any easier, we still had uncertainty and worry, but luckily in New Zealand we are pretty much back to normal. 

Did you know that we have over 2,000 shifts scheduled to support the delivery of the National Summer Games?

We opened for volunteer registrations on 8 December 2020 and are hoping to secure 600 volunteers to fill those shifts.  If you know of some businesses that are in the greater Waikato region that provide their staff with a volunteer day, we would be keen to talk to them about volunteering at the games.  Please contact Asti at

We have been delighted to see Kaha the Kiwi, our new Special Olympics mascot, travel to Dunedin for the Lower South Island Regional Games.  He was extremely popular and has been busy also making an appearance at the ‘year to go’ celebration in Hamilton for the National Summer Games. 

See our article below for further details and photos.  We can’t wait to see 2021 as Kaha makes his way to regional events in your area!

My best wishes goes out to everyone and your whānau, whether they are in New Zealand or overseas this Kirihimete.  I am extremely grateful to live in Aotearoa and be surrounded by many great friends and work in such an amazing organisation. 

Thank you to all our volunteers, staff and supporters for all that you do for Special Olympics in New Zealand.  

2021 looks to be an amazing year for us all and I know everyone at SONZ is looking forward to being in Hamilton on 8 December for the opening ceremony of the National Summer Games – see you there!


Students love FIFA Unified Football tournament ⚽

On 25 November, 111 students, with and without intellectual disabilities, from eight schools across Auckland came together to play in New Zealand’s first ever FIFA Secondary Schools Unified Football Tournament.

Unified Sports is a Special Olympics initiative where athletes with ID play alongside people without an ID.  Internationally there are over 1.9 million participants.  It’s fun, inclusive and incredibly beneficial for not only participants but the wider community.

It promotes confidence, health and fitness, and allows for barriers to mainstream sport to be taken down, and for stereotypes and misconceptions to be swept away.  

At 10am as schools started arriving athlete leader Jared Lutu thought the students might have some nerves about the tournament ahead 

“Maybe they get really nervous and shy to be in the unified team, but they’ve got to keep building their confidence”

Jared Lutu was there to support the students alongside fellow athlete leaders Laura Davis, Scot Jackson and Shanae Dean. 

However, once the football started all nerves were forgotten as the first of 18 football matches went off without a hitch. The sidelines were filled with excited coaches and supporters and the students, some of whom had never played football before, scored, defended, tackled and ran their way through the morning games. 

A self-proclaimed football lover, Pakuranga student James Voykovich enjoyed the tournament:

“My favourite moment of today was scoring the goals and defending.”   

Fellow student Katrina Lee following her first win of the day was thrilled with the day’s success so far:

“I had fun, I scored two goals and I made new friends and Pakuranga College is the best!”  

One of several mainstream students in the Pakuranga team, Tahlia Cleur really enjoyed the chance to interact with all the students. 

“The shy people come and talk to you, or come and help someone else when they normally wouldn’t because they’re in an environment that they love.” 

Gurjeet Toor, a teacher from Selwyn College commented on why she thought the tournament went so well:

“They might play at different levels, but they integrate so well, they’ve been one team and it  doesn’t really matter where they came from” 

SONZ Central Sports Coordinator Helen Ferguson knows the  importance of the tournament goes far beyond providing a fun experience for the athletes:

“One of the most important things about today is bridging the gap between those with intellectual disabilities and those without. It puts everyone on the same playing field.” 

With the success of the tournament, Special Olympics New Zealand is now working to gain funding that will enable them to bring the Unified Sports program to schools and clubs across New Zealand. 

“It’s really taking off on an international stage and New Zealand has the ability to get there as well.” 

Hamish Gilbert: Rising above barriers

On the 2 December Hawkes Bay Special Olympics athlete Hamish Gilbert won the Special Olympics Award at the 2020 Attitude Awards for rising above challenges to not only achieve in sport, but become a leader for inclusion due to his trailblazing achievements in school and the wider community. 

Hamish’s journey has not been easy and started at an early age, born out a determination to do everything his twin brother Sam could. 

Born with Down Syndrome Hamish’s low muscle tone meant he could not always do what his brother did.  He wanted to run like his brother and ride a bike like his brother. However through the support of his family and lots of perseverance and practice, he went from not being able to walk unaided to riding a bike.  

In 2017 Hamish’s love of public speaking started with a school speech assignment. Hamish was nervous, but it ended up a great success as he remembers: 

“I had to do a speech about the Duke of Edinburgh and my experience with bronze, and I did it  and nailed it.” 

Hamish’s mum Stephanie Gilbert remembers how successful that day was for Hamish, who achieved his first 3 NCEA credits with his speech. 

“He came home with the biggest smile on his face, like the Cheshire Cat and the first words he said  were I nailed it mum!”

Afterwards it was like a switch had been flipped and Hamish’s confidence and determination to achieve grew and grew. In 2019 he gained a total of 80 credits and achieved NCEA level 1 and Duke of Edinburgh Silver.  

This year he has since surpassed that to achieve NCEA level 2 and Duke of Edinburgh Gold, one of only two students at his school to complete it in 2020. 

In March 2020 Regional Sports Coordinator Jemma Drake organized for Hamish to speak for 25 minutes at the opening of the Duke of Edinburgh Special Olympics club. Having never spoken in front of strangers, Stephanie wasn’t sure how Hamish’s speech would go.

“I really did not know how he would go.  I needn’t have worried, having practiced loads of times, he did his best performance ever in Wellington and blew everybody away.” 

Jemma loves the regular updates she gets from the Gilbert family and is always excited hear what Hamish has been up to. 

“So proud of Hamish and all of his amazing achievements over this past year. I’ve seen him grow  in confidence each time he puts himself out there to share his story and I can’t wait to see what is  in store for him in 2021.” 

Along his long list of achievements, Hamish has become a Kapa Haka gamechanger at his school. 

“I did kapa haka last year and I invited some of my friends from the special needs unit and they  just tagged along with me.” 

Now this year four kids from Hamish’s special needs unit took part in Kapa Haka and were recognized by the school for breaking barriers. 

For Hamish to do things such as join Kapa Haka, go to the career’s advisor, achieve Duke of Edinburgh and NCEA, he’s become a trailblazer at his school for other kids with intellectual disabilities, as Stephanie says, to look at opportunities and say:  

“Hey that’s not just for mainstream, that’s for us as well.” 

Alongside this all Hamish has found the time to guest speak at the Napier City Council and HB Environment Centre on worm farms, be the runner up Disabled Athlete of the Year at the Hawkes Bay Sports Awards, and at his senior prizegiving he was awarded with the Ron Shakespear Cup and a Citizenship Award for his contribution to the school. 

Stephanie has seen the impact of Hamish’s achievements in the community and what can happen if more opportunities are available to people with ID.

“Hopefully Hamish’s achievements will allow others to see what is possible with opportunity, and  attitudes will further change to enable those that follow in Hamish’s footsteps to have a smoother  journey.”  
“If we had believed what we had been told at the start of Hamish’s journey, and not advocated for  those opportunities from the start, challenging the way things were done, Hamish would not have  been able to grow into the amazing young man that he is today.”  

This summer Hamish started his first job at Splash Planet and is excited to continue his Special Olympics training and public speaking. 

Hamish is proof of what people can achieve when opportunities are given and barriers are removed, as Stephanie notes: 

“There’s always a way, it may be a different road, it may be a longer road. It doesn’t matter we can all get there.” 

Watch Hamish’s inspiring speech at the 2020 Attitude Awards

Celebrating 365 days until the National Summer Games! 🎉

On Tuesday 8 December we celebrated one year to go until the National Summer Games at the Hamilton Gardens.  

A highlight of the event was having so many Athletes involved, we had Charlotte Aroa and Matthew Smith welcoming the guests and then we heard great speeches from athlete leaders Alex Johnsen, Melissa Donoghue, Portia Johnson and Tegan Crotty!

Melissa welcomed everyone to the event and told us a bit about The National Summer Games. Then we heard from Portia and Tegan who shared their stories of past National Summer Games and the opportunities they have received through Special Olympics.

“I’ve been to two lots of nationals, so I’ve had double the fun! Before you start the competition they have a opening ceremony which is really cool if it’s your first time of going to nationals. Then after the opening all the competitions starts, there’s other fun stuff about going to the nationals like getting medals instead of getting ribbons. You make friendships, travelling around the country, you get to cheer your team more.”

Portia Johnston

Alex Johnsen closed off the event with some epic music from his band Robert Mullen Jnr and Friends and our mascot Kaha the Kiwi even joined in with some great dancing!  

It was a beautiful day in Hamilton and following the formalities everyone got to enjoy some wonderful Waikato sunshine and play some sports outside! 

Club highlights 🏀

It’s been a wild few months for our clubs! With over 20 club and school events, workshops and trainings galore, our athletes have given their all this last quarter!

Here is just a tiny amount of what has gone on in November and December. Follow our Facebook page for more highlights!

School spirit at Christchurch Certificate Day

In late November schools assembled in Christchurch for a certificate day, students competed in athletics, made new friends and had a great time under the sun! The excitement was palpable in the air with an organiser from Special Olympics Canterbury saying that:

“It was an excellent event. School pride, smiles and competitive athletes.”

Fantastic swimming and brilliant bowling

Despite the delay of competitions throughout the year athletes showed they had trained hard at the Auckland Swimming Tier 1 event on the 21st November. Helen Ferguson says it was a “Fantastic day in the pool”.

Teams from Hawkes Bay, Hutt Valley, Mana. North Taranaki, Wellington, Kapiti and Manawatu competed and had a good time catching up with friends at the Manawatu tier 2 bowling event on the 28-29th of November.

Wanganui Elite powerlifting, soccer, basketball and more!

Coach Sharnell Stevenson leads the newly created and self-named Wanganui Elite Powerlifting team with athletes Freddie Wroe, Mikayla Shackleton, Bianca Guilford and Daniel Jeffrey-Allen as they compete in their first event in Manawatu on the 28th November.

Mikayla certainly had a great time that day, recalling:

“I had the best day that I could ever ask for. I had so so much fun and I will never forget the day.”

And check out our athletes at the Papakura Basketball tournament on the 9th November, an informal soccer game in Hamilton on the 14th November and at the Palmerston North Bowling tournament on the 7th December!

Ka pai to everyone who participated in these past few months of competitions and a bigs thanks to our volunteers, clubs and staff for making it all happen and for taking these amazing photos 💕

Balance is Better Coaches Corner

Ensuring all people receive a quality sport experience, irrespective of the level at which they are involved is a key priority for Special Olympics New Zealand. Two clubs have recently demonstrated a growth mindset when it comes to coach development and both have put their coaches through their paces at a locally led coach development workshop.

Bay of Islands and Whangarei clubs hosted the workshops with a key focus on coaches refreshing their current knowledge and learning new and exciting ways to provide SONZ athletes with a positive developmental experience.

Each workshop was tailored to the needs of each club, both offering theory based and practical learning opportunities.

“These workshops have been amazing and a real boost for the host clubs. Every coach that attended was provided with an opportunity to have a voice and be involved. I like to think we helped create a fun, friendly learning environment where everyone was able to add another tool into their coaching toolbox”

Gary Peacham, Sports Director.

Like many sporting organisations, Covid-19 halted many coach development opportunities, but Special Olympics New Zealand are looking to continue the rollout of these workshops throughout 2021.

Any clubs wanting to host a SONZ coaching workshop throughout 2021 should discuss with their Regional Sports Coordinator and we will help make it happen.

Coaches Tip: Relax over the summer

Take a well-deserved break, review your year and come back refreshed and ready to go for a big 2021.

Thank you to our wonderful volunteers, donors and partners for your continued support 💕


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