Grace Payne Named Sargent Shriver Global Messenger

Grace Payne is the first New Zealander to be granted the highest honour in international Special Olympics when she was named as one of their Global Messengers.

Each four-year cycle, only 10 athletes from the 5.6 million registered athletes with an intellectual disability are named to campaign for a more inclusive world.

Payne from the Counties club was visibly shocked when she heard the news through a video message from Special Olympics International (SOI) Chairman Tim Shriver, the son of Special Olympics founder, Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

“This is pretty exciting and unbelievable that I got this role,” said the 24-year-old Special Olympics powerlifter who has been a vocal Athlete Leader at home and in the Asia Pacific region, promoting Special Olympics and the rights of people with a disability.

Payne has competed herself at multiple National Summer Games, in powerlifting and basketball, and was part of the New Zealand basketball team at the World Summer Games in Abu Dhabi in 2019.

Payne was born with autism, but has defied all predictions about her future.

“The doctors said, she won’t be able to walk, won’t be able to talk, and won’t be able to do anything independently, but my mum said, no, she can,” said Payne, who thanked her mother Toni Payne and Counties club mentor Rowena Massey for helping her to become a confident, articulate young woman.

In his video message Special Olympics International Chairman Tim Shriver explained Payne had been appointed “because of your work, because of your determination, because of the power of your voice and because of the example you’ve set for other people”.

Payne’s new title of Sargent Shriver Global Messenger is named after Eunice Kennedy’s husband, who created the role of global messenger.

“My dad Sargent Shriver had one central belief, that the Special Olympics movement could change the world. You are now the holder of his legacy,” said the current SOI chairman, who added that the Global Messengers travel the world for the next four years to share the values of Special Olympics.

Payne was excited to travel the world and talk to people about power of inclusion and the Special Olympics movement. 

“To talk about why we do what we do, and to be able to do that in an international role is really exciting. I’ve got a lot of experience around New Zealand and Asia Pacific, but I’m really looking forward to step that up and meet all the others who get this role as well,” said Payne.

Special Olympics New Zealand Chief Executive Fran Scholey said that the entire organisation was buzzing with excitement when they found out Payne had become the first Kiwi to receive such this international honour.

“We are all hugely proud of Grace, who has been an incredible advocate for our community for many years, and it is fantastic to see that being part of Special Olympics and her terrific support crew have given her confidence and opportunities,” said Scholey. 

“When you see how confident and articulate she is, it is hard to believe that she is still relatively young, so we can’t wait to see the amazing things Grace will do in the future.”

Payne uses social media to raise awareness and inspire others, but said 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.”

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