Paralympian #17 The Late Neroli Fairhall Celebrated And Acknowledged

Published: Wed 22 May 2024 07:53 AM
Photo credit: Paralympics New Zealand
PNZ Chair Jana Rangooni and Kriston Ware
Paralympics New Zealand (PNZ) has awarded the PNZ Order of Merit to the late Neroli Fairhall MBE, Paralympian #17, for her outstanding service to PNZ and Paralympic sport in New Zealand.
Determined, meticulous and intrepid, Neroli had a legendary international sporting career – moving seamlessly between Paralympic and Olympic Games and making history as the first disabled Olympian in 1984, recognised as Olympian #432.
Neroli, who passed away in 2006, first competed in Para athletics at the Heidelberg 1972 Paralympic Games in Germany, but it was in Para archery that she truly excelled. She went on to compete at four Paralympic Games, an Olympic Games and a Commonwealth Games.
She also became an administrator for disabled sport and coached elite-level archers.
Born in Christchurch in 1944, Neroli was a keen equestrian who represented Canterbury at national pony club championships. But a serious motorbike accident in the Port Hills when she was 24 left her paralysed from the waist down.
As Neroli recovered, Eve Rimmer, a recent PNZ Order of Merit recipient and Paralympian #13, encouraged her to take up shot put. At the Heidelberg 1972 Paralympic Games, she competed in Para athletics, making the final rounds of the women’s discus throw, shot put and slalom.
But Neroli soon discovered she had the concentration, composure, and sharp eye needed for archery. In 1980, at the Arnhem Paralympic Games, she again made the final round of the discus, but also won gold in Para archery’s Double FITA Round Paraplegic event and set a world record for the double FITA round. After winning her second national archery title, Neroli was selected for the Brisbane 1982 Commonwealth Games. In a testing four-day competition, she fought her way through the field to clinch the gold medal with three consecutive bullseyes. She was a finalist in the 1983 New Zealand Sportsman of the Year.
She made headlines around the globe competing at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games, as the first disabled athlete, finishing 35th in a field of 47. She tried to compete at a second Olympics in 1996 but needed reconstructive shoulder surgery.
She represented New Zealand in Para archery at two more Paralympic Games – in Seoul in 1988 and Sydney in 2000.
Neroli was awarded an MBE for services to her sport and the disabled and won the NZOC Lonsdale Cup for the most meritorious performance in an Olympic or Commonwealth sport, in 1982. She was also made a life member of Archery NZ and was posthumously inducted into the Paralympic Hall of Fame during the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
The PNZ Order of Merit pin and certificate was presented by the Chair of PNZ, Jana Rangooni, to Neroli’s nephew, Kriston Ware, and his partner Katie Stevens, as part of the PNZ Board meeting at Sport New Zealand in Wellington on May 21.
Kriston said it was a great recognition for the many decades of effort, dedication and determination his aunt put into her sport.
“She blazed a trail competing in both disabled and non-disabled sports events. That sometimes brought extra attention that could be a distraction and additional pressure to being a high-performance athlete. But she had a steely determination and focus to create the right conditions to perform at her best.
“Her relationship with Eve Rimmer was instrumental in her recovery from her accident and becoming involved in Para sport. She developed a great sense of fraternity and support from other Para athletes and over her time, saw the Paralympic Movement grow.”
The Chair of PNZ, Jana Rangooni, said Neroli played a vital role in increasing the visibility of Para athletes on the world’s greatest sporting platforms. “Neroli made it possible for others to compete in non-disabled competition, and did so with tenacity, fearlessness and a mastery of her sport that made her one of the very best in the world. Her incredible legacy within the Paralympic Movement lives on today.”
Established in 2001, the PNZ Order of Merit has been awarded to 32 individuals.

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