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Announcing Achievers Awards Winners For 1999

From waterskier to potter, this year's Blind Achievers' Award winners are an inspiration to all New Zealanders.

If you think being blind could be an obstacle to excelling at the craft of pottery, water skiing, farming, television presenting and acting, or writing and lecturing, think again.

Six blind and sight-impaired New Zealanders engaged in these activities are the winners of the 1999 Blind Achievers' Awards, announced this evening at the Blind Foundation's Braille Week Charity Auction at the Carlton Hotel in Auckland.

They are potter Kelvin Falconer of Katikati; poet, scholar and university lecturer Michele Leggott of Devonport, Auckland; international waterskier Glen Putze of Papakura, Auckland; writer Ruth Dallas of Dunedin; dairy farmer Stuart Manson of Otautau, Southland, and voice artist, actor and television presenter and researcher Minnie Baragwanath of Herne Bay, Auckland.

"As in previous years the quality of entries was outstanding, giving judges a difficult and challenging task," says organiser Suraya Dewing.

Eighty-year-old Ruth Dallas, the oldest 'achiever' in the four- year history of the awards, and this year's Literature category winner is delighted by her award win, which she hopes will inspire other older people.

"It's never too late to be encouraged, and this is certainly encouragement," says Ruth, whose latest work, a collection of short stories 'The Black Horse and Other Stories', is to be published in 2000 by the University of Otago Press.

A well-known children's author and poet, whose work appears in many New Zealand poetry anthologies, judge and writer Kevin Ireland describes Ruth's award as "a fitting tribute to her talent, commitment and tenacity".

Equally, if not more tenacious in his approach to life is totally blind Aucklander Glen Putze, who won the Sports category for his achievements in water skiing.

Earlier this year Glen, a full-time physiotherapist in South Auckland, competed at the World Disabled Water Ski Championships in London, where despite breaking a rib in the preliminary rounds, he went on to gain three Silver medals and break a world record in the Wake Slalom event. Judge for the Sports category was Sports Broadcaster Clint Brown.

Katikati potter Kelvin Falconer, winner of the Art & Craft category, runs Rolling Cloud Pottery studio and gallery with his wife Irene Tuscia-Falconer. The 47-year-old has extremely low vision, due to the condition Retinitis Pigmentosa.

"Kelvin throws his very perfectly formed and proportioned pots, mixes the oxides for the glazes and fires the kiln," says Art & Craft judge Dr Rodney Wilson, Executive Director of Auckland Museum.

Kelvin, who also teaches pottery, currently has his work on display in the America's Cup Village Art Gallery.

"I feel really proud to be part of what the Foundation is doing, and personally it's exciting. It makes me feel I want to go beyond what I've already achieved.

Minnie Baragwanath of Auckland, winner of the Performing Arts category, is an actor, voice artist, presenter and researcher. She is currently employed by Point of View Productions and Long White Cloud Production company, where she works mainly on the TVNZ programme Inside Out - a show that explores issues facing people with a disability. Over the past year she has also done modelling, presented in a range of videos, and voice work for television commercials, including the True Bliss album.

"Personally this is great, and on a larger scale these awards are invaluable in raising public awareness, and challenging stereotypes some people have about what blindness means," says Minnie, who has the eye condition Stargardts.

Judge for the Performing Arts category was actor Michael Keir- Morrissey.

Stuart Manson of Otautau in Southland, this year's Business winner, lost his sight in 1993 to Diabetic Retinopathy. In 1994 Stuart converted his family's 130-hectare sheep farm into a total dairy unit. Despite downturns in the industry, the farm's production and herd size has continued to rise, with a record herd of 270 this year.

A hands-on farmer, and the farm's administration manager, Stuart has worked to improve pasture management and pasture fertility with success. Stuart says his sight deteriorated over an 8-10 year period, and he believes he subconsciously adjusted to the situation he is now in.

"I can milk cows and fix fences, but when it comes to identifying stock and driving vehicles, that's out of my field," he laughs. However, he adds, "that's also a frustration".

Stuart says first learning to type through the Blind Foundation, and consequently acquiring a computer and scanner has been invaluable to him being able to "carrying on doing a lot of what I used to do". Judge for the Business category was Michael Barnett, Chief Executive of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce.

Michele Leggott of Devonport in Auckland is a poet, scholar, critic, editor and senior lecturer at the University of Auckland, and the winner of the Academic section of this year's Blind Achievers' Awards.

In September 1998 Michele, as one of three principal investigators in a five-member team, was awarded the prestigious Marsden Scholarship for work on The Biography and other Writings of Robin Hyde. . Michele's project within the group is to complete The Collected Poems of Robin Hyde.

Michele became a Blind Foundation member in 1994, when Retinitis Pigmentosa was found in her central vision. Along with working on the Marsden Award project, in May this year The Book of Nadath, edited by Michele, was published, and in September, Auckland University Press published Michele's fourth book of poetry 'as far as I can see'.

"It's a great honour for me to get this award. Up until now my achievements have been recognised solely for their academic input," says Michele, who along with her research and university lecturing continues to want to just "go out there and do the poem". Judge for the Academic category was Professor Ian Watson, Principle of Massey University Campus.

Each Blind Achievers' Award winner received an original cast glass sculpture by Auckland-based international artist Jo Nuttall, and $750.00.


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