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June 29, 2003

Foiling disability

From: The Ashburton Guardian, New Zealand - Jun 29, 2003

David Wilson's achievements are being highlighted as part of Helen Keller Communication Day today - an event Deafblind New Zealand and the Royal New Zeal-and Foundation of the Blind are jointly promoting.
Keller (1880-1968) was an American who became an international celebrity with her ability to communicate with the outside world despite total blindness and profound deafness since infancy.
David, a Mid Canterbury rugby winger during the late 1970s and early 1980s, who scored a try in their 21-12 loss to the touring Scots in 1981, is virtually deaf and blind.
His disability forced him to give up coaching rugby a couple of years ago, but he continues to help out Ashburton's young athletes.
A speedster in his prime, Wilson has seen some of his track and field proteges reach high honours.
Not all deaf and blind people are as severely afflicted as Keller was. About 1500 New Zealanders are classified as deafblind - possessing limited sight and hearing.
The aim of Communication Day is to increase understanding of the disability and to impress on the wider community that deafblind people can still lead full and independent lives.
David, 44, was born with the rare and hereditary Usher syndrome. He had less than 40 per cent hearing at birth and his peripheral eyesight began to deteriorate when he was 19.
Those who witnessed his exploits on the rugby field recall a player with a big heart.
"He was an exceptional tryscorer, given any space to move, and he certainly didn't shirk anything,'' fellow team members said.
"He wasn't a big bloke, but he was certainly gutsy.''
David's hearing never bothered him, even during his playing days, but his failing eyesight made things tough. He had to give up coaching rugby because of the night sessions and the number of children involved.
But not to be beaten by his disability, David took on a manager's role. David coached and managed teams with the Collegiate club and Mid Canterbury JAB representative rugby up until last season.
But with athletics, it's one-on-one. It was something David could still manage to do and something he gained much satisfaction from.
Athletics opened a new door for David six years ago. It was when Linton (David's elder son) started to show an interest in running.
David said he saw athletics in Ashburton "out of place". "It needed someone to pick up the youngsters and get them all starting on the same blocks."
"I was only going to coach Linton, but he needed someone to train with him. I ended up with 14 kids under my wing that (the 1997) season."
His enthusiasm and encouragement grew on the young athletes, with several of his "first intake" going on to achieve high honours.
Ashburton athletes David has had success with include son Linton, a past New Zealand Secondary school junior 400m champion; Erica Prescott also a New Zealand Secondary school medal winner and Serena Scott who became David's first international athlete.
Younger son, Sam, a 200m and 400m runner also began his athletics career under his father's watchful eye. Sam is a member of the New Zealand team competing at the world youth track and field championships in Canada next month.
While now coached by a Canterbury coach, Serena Scott says David is always with her as she continues to pursue a successful athletics career.
Serena, 17, is currently an athlete with the New Zealand Elite Sports Performance Academy.
"Dave is always in my thoughts. I will always remember him as the person that started me out in athletics. Yes - Dave is my idol in my sport," Serena said.
She clearly remembers some of her first coaching lessons with David. "It was while I was at Ashburton Intermediate. I had broken the 200m sprint record at the Canterbury schools championships. It was after that when David offered to help me if I wanted to go on with my athletics. He said he could see I had potential but I needed a bit of 'sorting out'."
Serena took up the offer, and her athletics career went from strength to strength.
In her six years of competitive athletics Serena has accumulated a string of successes, including being a triple New Zealand representative.
"Dave used to tell me I had 'handbag arms' when I was running. We often laugh about that now," she said.
"I always think of Dave when I am running. I think if it wasn't for him I wouldn't be here. He was the first person I thought of when I stood on the podium and received my first medal.
"Even though Dave has his disability it never shows in his coaching. He was always there for me with is infectious smile, enthusiasm and encouragement," Serena said.
David says "the kids" have always understood.
"If I don't see them wave to me they just come up and tap me on the shoulder.''
He said his athletes have helped him as much as he has helped them.
"I get a real thrill out of seeing them improve and do well.
"I have helped them, sure, but a lot of times it is not realised how much they help me.
"My athletes are a big part of helping me to cope in my life," David said.
Outside of coaching, David continues to work at the meat works in Ashburton.
His job of pushing carcasses out of the chiller doesn't involve much listening or lip-reading, but is nevertheless highly physical.
Deafblind NZ president Max Comer said his organisation wanted to correct misconceptions, such as the belief that being deafblind meant having no sight or hearing at all.
"We want to encourage the wider public to include deaf and blind people in their lives, in sport, recreation or employment, as fully able members of society.''

© 2003 The Ashburton Guardian