By Te Ahikaa Trotman, Te Rito journalism cadet.
Cameron Leslie’s family is all the motivation he needs to get back on top of the Paralympic world stage.
Leslie (Ngāpuhi) returned from Paris earlier this month after spending just 55 hours in next year’s Olympic city attending the Laureus World Sports Awards.
He went straight back into a heavy week-long training regime, picking up some winter bugs along the way.
The Laureus Awards featured world-class athletes, including track sprinter Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and football superstar Lionel Messi.
“I’ve told a few people how I quite enjoyed seeing Messi there, not because of what a global star he is, but because he had a couple of wrinkles around his eyes as well, which made me feel at home,” Leslie joked.
He described the awards show as “super-proper” compared to awards ceremonies he had been to previously. He was also delighted that his wife Emma was with him.
"A moment to reflect'
“My wife came with me and she’d never been before, so it was kind of cool that we could have that new experience, as she’s the one usually taking one for the team.”
Leslie was a finalist for the Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability award, won by Swiss wheelchair track athlete Catherine Debrunner.
He said the awards were still a good experience.
“I think they are [important]. I think it’s a moment to reflect, and as athletes, we don’t reflect. You [shouldn’t] let your career go by without stopping and smelling the roses”.
Leslie hopes to qualify in swimming and wheelchair rugby.
“Hopefully, [we] can get swimming and wheelchair rugby qualified and be going for both, that’s my absolute dream”.
He’s been a part of the Wheel Blacks since 2010.
Although they are very different sports, Leslie says the training for both disciplines is complementary.
“Because of my disability, I’ve only really got [power] from my hips up, in terms of muscles that are useful in the water and the rugby chair.
“So when I’m training for swimming, it’s actually helping rugby, and when I’m training for rugby, it’s helping for swimming. Or at the gym, same thing - it’s the same muscle group.”
Leslie missed the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics due to the birth of his second child, and credits his children as his motivation to keep going.
He wants them to see their father competing at the highest level.
“I’m at a unique age and stage in my career where the role-modelling ability I’ve got for my kids is very much there, and they’re old enough to actually see their dad compete.”
Leslie’s children and their friends see him as a dad, not a disabled dad, and he hopes his presence on the athletic stage will also move society’s view of disability.