Grace Payne wins global Special Olympics Award
21 July 2022
Special Olympics New Zealand athlete leader Grace Payne has been recognised for her tireless advocacy work for people with intellectual disabilities at the 2022 Global Youth Summit.
The 23-year-old from Waiuku was born with autism and has been an inspirational athlete leader across Aotearoa and abroad.
At the online Global Youth Summit, which was attended by representatives from 170 countries, Payne was chosen from five million athletes around the world to be the inaugural recipient of the Ray and Stephanie Lane Award for Inclusive Youth Leadership.
“Inclusion means that everyone is being involved and included,” says the social media influencer who competes in powerlifting and basketball.
“Nobody should be left out or be unheard. Instead they should be given equal opportunities.”
Payne says she uses social media to raise awareness, but says each individual person can play their own small part in growing better understanding for people with intellectual disabilities.
“One thing we all can and must do is help our families and friends understand intellectual disability better. The cycle doesn’t stop with one person. You educate your friends; they educate theirs and so on.”
Special Olympics New Zealand Chief Executive Carolyn Young says the entire Special Olympics community is proud of Payne’s work and that her achievements have been recognised internationally.
“Grace is well-known around Special Olympics events and she is a leader and inspiration to all our athletes, in the truest sense of the word. And she is only still young, so the sky is the limit for this incredible woman,” says Young.
Payne has been making huge progress over the past few years, both in her sports and in her advocacy work.
She finished fourth in basketball at the World Summer Games in Abu Dhabi in 2019 and this December will be competing in powerlifting along with 1500 other athletes across 10 sports at the Freemasons New Zealand Special Olympics National Summer Games in Hamilton.
Off the field, Payne is an advisor to the Asia Pacific Athlete Leadership Council, she chairs the Upper North Island regional council, is the co-chair of the National Input Council, as well as athlete representative on the Asia-Pacific Advisory Council and the athlete representative on the Special Olympics New Zealand board.
Payne says she fitted in well at school, but still experienced regular bullying, much of which was based on ignorance from her peers.
“Another thing I do is visit schools or organisations and talk about intellectual disability. I think it’s important to educate children, so that they grow up to ask the right questions
“People can be curious, but they tend to overlook the need to word their questions properly. Instead of saying “what’s wrong with you”, the question should be “what’s your disability?”
Aside from educating her peers, Payne is also working hard to overcome misconceptions and raise expectations of what people with intellectual disabilities can achieve.
“People often tend to believe that those with intellectual disabilities can’t be independent and rely on others to live their lives.
“A lot of us can live independently, like everyone else. We can work, we can go to school, we can carry out tasks. Some people may take longer than others to do things, and that’s okay. We all adapt differently.”