Topic: Waka Ama

Paraplegic athlete paddles to success

By Iulia Leilua

Waka ama athlete, Wally Noble, is heading to Tahiti next month as part of NZ’s elite para waka ama team.  They’re set to compete at the 2018 International Waka Ama Championships, a challenge Wally set for himself three years ago.

The 50-year old paraplegic fell six metres in a workplace accident in 2007, breaking his spinal cord and leaving him paralysed from the chest down.  He went from being a successful scaffolding businessman to suffering depression in a wheelchair. 

Wally says he was inspired to change three years later after being asked to help another newly paralysed person who’d suffered similar injuries. 

“I rocked on into the spinal unit and me and this guy hit it off," says Wally.  "We got on great and I think I cheered him up.  That whole process changed me.”

Realising he could help others on a similar journey, Wally enrolled in a social work degree at Manukau Institute of Technology and graduated in 2013.

He now works as a social worker in Whangarei supporting disabled people for CCS Disability Action.  His experience with discrimination motivates him to advocate for other disabled people.  But he says he’s come a long way with the support of his family and friends.

“It kind of feels like I’ve had a couple of lives since my disability, 10/11 years ago.  I’ve had to readapt my life along with my whanau and my goals.  I really don’t have anything to be unthankful for.”