Running feats recalled

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Michael O'Callaghan with his framed silver medals from the 1984 New York Paralympics and the certificate he has just received from Paralympics New Zealand.

Just over 200 competitors have represented New Zealand at the paralympics since the first event in Tel Aviv in 1968 and among them is double medal winner Michael O’Callaghan, of Ashburton.

Michael is a runner and won silvers in the 1500m and 5000m A6 para events at the 1984 New York games and also made the final of the 400m.

He and his fellow paralympians were recently honoured by Paralympics New Zealand and given commemorative certificates to acknowledge their achievements and representation.

Michael, who has lived in Ashburton for the last 43 years, said his certificate had brought back a lot of fond memories from the days when he was running up to 6500km a year in training.

“I first represented New Zealand and wore the black vest in 1980 in Australia.

“It was the International Year of the Disabled Persons around that time as well.”

Michael’s last international run was in Indonesia in 1986 and he has also raced in Hong Kong and all over New Zealand.

“We had to qualify in three events to be chosen for the New York games and there was just a few of us that made the trip.

“I was named captain, carried the flag and also shook hands with then US president Ronald Reagan.”

The 72-year-old said he remembers very tight security at the games and the fact that the athletes’ village was located out near one of the airports.

“I was very proud to represent my country and winning medals was the icing on the cake.”

Amputees competed in New York and wheelchair athletes at Stoke Mandeville in England, he said.

Athletes part paid for their uniforms in those days and spent three weeks away from home, which included a trip to Los Angeles to see the summer Olympics stadium.

Michael said the racing had been hard in New York.

“I was in a photo finish with an Italian in the 5000 metre race and he disputed it, but the stripes on my shorts got it for me.

“In the 1500 metre race I was beaten by a guy from Finland who was a very good athlete and could run 400 metres in 50 seconds.”

Michael has been a member of the Ashburton Harriers for 42 years and had his right arm amputated below the elbow after an electrical accident in 1978.

He runs without his prothesis, but has worn it in kayaking races and triathlons that he has raced.

“Distance running is a personal journey and a lonely sport.

“When I was really into it and doing all the training I had great support from my then wife Diane and my two children Angela and Tanya, which I’ll always be grateful for.”

Michael still clocks up around 50km a week and is an early morning runner.

-By Mick Jensen