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Dream on target for sharp-shooting award finalist

Media release: September 23, 2014

For immediate release

Dream on target for sharp-shooting award finalist

Neelam O’Neill (21) dreams of being the first Paralympic female shooter for New Zealand since 1984.

The Whangarei woman’s determination to achieve her goal has earned her a spot as a ‘Courage in Sport’ finalist in the 2014 Attitude Awards, which celebrates the achievements of disabled Kiwis.

Born with spina bifida, Neelam has had numerous operations on her spine, feet and knees and uses a wheelchair to get around. In 2009 she received a knee replacement after falling and fracturing her knee. Despite these challenges, Neelam refuses to let her mobility issues stop her achieving her dream.

The ambitious Eden Terrace resident has her sights firmly set on the air rifle 10m prone event at the 2016 Rio Paralympics. She is currently in training under Paralympic champ Michael Johnson preparing for the IPC World Cup qualifier in Sydney in December.

Recent muscle twitches have added another challenge to Neelam’s shooting. However the courageous young woman says although frustrating she is determined to overcome it. “Shooting is a ninety percent mental game and ten per cent action – it takes a huge amount of focus,” she says.

Growing up in Whangarei, Neelam’s stepdad taught her to shoot slug guns. Then at high school she joined the shooting team, using a .22 smallbore rifle, and went on to achieve success at a national level. Last year, in just her first year of competitive shooting, she excelled, gaining numerous placings including a first in the Waikato Championships.

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When she’s not at shooting practice Neelam works as a supported living facilitator with the Renaissance Group, helping other people with disabilities to achieve their goals. In May 2014 she graduated from Auckland University with a bachelor of science majoring in psychology and statistics.

Neelam’s selection for an Attitude Award is testament to her fighting spirit. She will find out if she has won the award at a black tie gala on World Disability Day, December 3 at Auckland’s Viaduct Events Centre. Neelam says she was gobsmacked to be named a finalist. “I was so surprised. I’m just me. This is what I do.”

Attitude Awards trustee Dan Buckingham, a member of the elite national wheelchair rugby team the Wheel Blacks, says: “This is such an exciting time for everyone at Attitude Pictures because we find out who the finalists are. We have started travelling the country to film the finalists and even though this is the seventh year of the awards their stories continue to amaze us.”

Dan encourages everyone to visit AttitudeLive.com, an innovative web platform created by Attitude Pictures, in early November to see the short films about the finalists and to vote for the person most deserving of the coveted ‘People’s Choice Award.’

There are eight categories in the Attitude Awards: Sport Performer of the Year, Courage in Sport, Artistic Achievement, Youth, Spirit of Attitude, Attitude ACC Employer Award, Making a Difference Award and the inaugural Attitude Junior Award, for an achiever under 15 years of age. The overall winner of the Attitude ACC Supreme Award is selected from the category winners and a ‘People’s Choice’ winner and a Hall of Fame inductee are also announced on the night.

The ‘Courage in Sport’ category is sponsored by Westpac New Zealand. Corporate Affairs Director Sue Foley says the bank is very proud to be honouring the achievements of Kiwis living with disability.

“We’re thrilled to sponsor the courage in sport award and recognise the courage our finalists have displayed to get active in sport. Each has shown determination and a can-do attitude to overcome incredible hurdles, not letting anything hold them back. This attitude is a true testament to their character and epitomises the courage it takes to make the most of life.”

Other sponsors supporting the awards include: Invacare, ACC, Barfoot and Thompson, IHC Foundation, Drake Medox, Ministry of Health, Air New Zealand and Wayne Francis Charitable Trust.

Chief executive of ACC Scott Pickering says ACC is proud to be principal sponsor of the awards for the seventh year, including sponsorship of the Attitude ACC Employer Award and the Attitude ACC Supreme Award.

"I'm really looking forward to this year's Attitude Awards, which are a significant event on New Zealand's calendar. Through celebrating excellence in the disability community and the important contributions made by New Zealanders with disabilities, the awards have the power to shift perceptions and to enhance lives."

The Attitude Awards are inspired by the positive stories shown weekly on TV One’s “Attitude” programme, which screens at 8:30am on Sundays.

For tickets to the Attitude Awards gala evening on Dec 3 contact Sue Wales-Earl at sue@attitudeawards.org or phone 09 377 6280.

For all the latest on the Awards and the Attitude Programme:

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Watch previous awards footage at www.attitudelive.com


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