HERA- Neelam O'Neill Paralympic Shooter

by Aktive
Published on Friday 28 May, 2021
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Neelam O'Neill was seven when she first learnt how to shoot while on a family camping holiday. Born with lipomyelomeningocele, a form of spina bifida that affects her lower back and legs, Neelam uses a wheelchair for mobility. Inspired by the only woman shooter to have represented New Zealand at the Paralympics, Neelam is on track to qualify for the Tokyo 2021 Games, where she hopes to compete in both the air rifle and pistol events.  

What does it mean to you to be physically active? 

To be alive! Being physically active to me means moving and being involved. It gives me a sense of belonging to a community and society, no matter what activity I’m doing. 

What activities did you do before Para-Shooting? 

Swimming, para-curling, parasailing, beach volleyball (before I was in a wheelchair), netball and table tennis. There are still some activities I’d like to try, for example I’d really like try more kayaking – I love being on the water. I think car racing would be pretty cool to try too! 

How does being physically active make you feel? 

It makes me feel strong, and it makes me happy. I enjoy making my body into a machine in the gym. I feel empowered being able to do these sorts of activities. Not only that, but it also makes me feel connected socially, especially in the gym – it is an encouraging, positive, and friendly environment. I come away from training refreshed and ready to take on the next challenge. 

How do you overcome setbacks? Or what do you do tell yourself when dealing with setbacks? 

Using personal reflection to overcome setbacks is key and I will often stop and reflect on what happened, how I’m feeling and what I can work on going forward. I prefer to focus on the areas for improvement as opposed to ‘what went wrong.’  

I try to approach setbacks with a positive attitude, believing that good things will happen if I works on the big picture and believe in myself. Instead of viewing something as a setback, I think of it as learning, taking things one step at a time.  

What are the key factors that have enabled you, and continue to enable you to be physically active? 

Facilities and organisations that are supportive and have helped me to participate – for example Parafed Auckland. It is also important having encouragement from my friends and family. 

Facilities are also key; if I have had a bad experience at a facility, for example if the environment is not welcoming or it’s a struggle to move around, I tend not to return. For all young women and girls, the environment can have a positive (or negative) impact and that really has an impact on how you feel about yourself. 

What advice would you give young women and girls looking to get physically active? 

Take opportunities that come your way to participate or seek these opportunities out to try new things – give it a go! You will not know if you like something until you give it a try. Find something social where you can participate with friends, meet new people, and make connections.

I have tried everything and anything I could. As a result, I have developed different skills that I can draw on. For example, not only did trying swimming really benefit my health, but it also provided me with some healthy competition. That experience also gave me great transferable skills, goal setting, being self-motivated, pushing myself beyond what I thought was possible, and the ability to break down challenges and work through them – reinforcing my belief that I am capable of doing so many things!  

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