Our History

ParaFed Otago is an organisation with a rich history dating as far back as the 1960’s and ParaFed Otago was officially established in 1967.

One of the first New Zealand Paralympians who competed at the 1968 Paralympic Games in Israel hailed from Otago. In 1968 ParaFed Otago was integral to the development of the New Zealand Paraplegic and Physically Disabled Federation (ParaFed NZ). ParaFed NZ is the national body which oversees and governs disability sports In Aotearoa New Zealand.

Fr Leo Close

Leo Close Commonwealth Games Dunedin 1974

Leo Close was born in Dublin in 1934 and went onto become the principal energy behind the foundation of IWA, and the first wheelchair user in the world to be ordained – Joanna Marsden

In the summer of 1956, Leo and five other students went on a tour of France. It was late at night and Leo got out of the car to have a look around, without realising, he walked onto the remains of an old bridge which had been bombed in the Second World War. He fell sixty feet (18 metres), with a tree breaking his fall. He was alive but he was paralysed from the waist down.

Leo received the best care and extensive rehabilitation at Stoke Mandeville Hospital. After just six months he was full of ambition and determination to go on with his studies. This would be a massive achievement as no one in a wheelchair had ever been ordained.

Fr Leo continued his studies, undertaking a diploma in Higher Education in 1962 at UCD, and finally a MA is Catechetic at the Lumen Vitae Institute in Brussels in 1963. In the summer of 1960, Fr Leo Close captained the Irish t the first Paralympic Games in Rome, where he competed in archery, table tennis and athletics. Fr Leo arrived in Dunedin in 1964, while on the way he competed at the 1954 Tokyo Paralympics. He competed for New Zealand at the 1968 Mexio and 1972 Munich Paralympic games in Athletics as well as at the 1974 Dunedin Commonwealth Paraplegic Games.

Commonwealth Games Dunedin 1974

Bill Lean

Dunedin’s Bill Lean with the gold medal he won at the Paralympics at Toronto in 1976.

Dunedin’s Bill Lean with the gold medal he won at the Paralympics at Toronto in 1976. Photo Craig Baxter

Sir Ludwig Guttman (from Stoke Mandeville England) Founder of the International Paraplegic Games 1948, talking to Bill Lean at the Games in Dunedin.

The founding members of Otago ParaFed 1965/66. From left, Graeme Marett, Bill Lean, Wyn Dyer (absent) Fr Leo Close. First National Games 5th June 1967 in Christchurch.

Bill Lean was born in Dunedin in 1942 and was one of the early Paralympians who went on to pave the way for future Paralympians who are succeeding today and into the future.

When Bill was 19, he was collecting a Christmas tree for his girlfriend’s family. He climbed to the top but unfortunately fell and broke his lower back. His determination and love of sport played a key role in his recovery.

In 1966, Bill was the only South Islander to travel to Jamaica for the Commonwealth Paraplegic Games. Bill made his Paralympic debut in Israel 1968 Paralympic Games; this was the first team that Paralympics NZ sent to a Paralympic Games.

In 1970, Bill attended the Stoke Mandeville International Games (SMIG) where he won gold in weightlifting, Silver in shot put and Bronze in discus. After SMIG, he continued to the 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, Bill received a Gold in archery and shotput and Silver in weightlifting, discuss and pentathlon. He then went on to compete at the Toronto 1976 Paralympic Games where he won a Gold medal in the men’s shotput and set a new world record of 8.87m.

Bill continued to represent New Zealand at the Holland 1980 Paralympic Games where unfortunately he could not compete due to heart problems. Bill was a very talented Paralympian competing in a variety of sports including archery, athletics, bowls, and table tennis.

Another highlight was the 1974 Commonwealth Games in Dunedin where he won a gold medal in heavyweight lifting with a world record total of 202.5kgs. Bill also received a Gold in shotput and javelin, Silver in discus and Bronze in pentathlon. John Masters, a lecturer at the School of Physical Education was a key organizer of the Dunedin event.

Bill Lean died in 2015 but he will always remain one of the key influencers in disability sport in Aotearoa.

Photo Craig Baxter

Sir Ludwig Guttman (from Stoke Mandeville England) Founder of the International Paraplegic Games 1948, talking to Bill Lean at the Games in Dunedin.
Dunedin’s Bill Lean with the gold medal he won at the Paralympics at Toronto in 1976. Photo Craig Baxter
The founding members of Otago Parafed 1965/66. From left, Graeme Marett, Bill Lean, Wyn Dyer (absent) Fr Leo Close. First National Games 5th June 1967 in Christchurch.

Graeme Marett

Graeme Marett Commonwealth Games 1974

Graeme Marett was born in Dunedin in the late 1930’s and alongside Fr Leo Close and Bill Lean, was instrumental in the establishment of organised sport for disabled athletes.

Graeme was 21 when he was involved in a serious car accident, which left him paralysed. He always saw sport as a chance to keep his body and particularly his mind active and being in a wheelchair was no exception. With the support of Bil and Fr Leo, Graeme began training.

He was first selected to represent New Zealand at the 1968 Paralympic in Israel (the first Paralympic in history not to be held concurrently with the Olympics in Mexico City). Graeme competed in archery, athletics, swimming and table tennis, his strongest events were athletics and archery.

At the 1972 Paralympic Games I Germany, Graeme won a sliver medal in discus and a Bronze in Pentathlon.

Graeme retired after the 1976 Paralympics but remained heavily involved in the local archery club. He passed away in 1999 at the age of 61 and the Dunedin Archery Club still run an event in memorial of him to this day.

Captions: The opening Ceremony of the 1968 Summer Paralympics Games in Israel.

Graeme Marett competing the FITA Gold Start Shoot Dunedin – 1994 Photo Courtesy of the Otago Daily Times

Opening ceremony of the 1968 Summer Paralympic Games in Israel
Graeme Marett Commonwealth Games 1974
Graeme Marett competing in the FITA Gold Star Shoot Dunedin 1994

Phil Read

Phil Read was born 11th May 1948, in Bolton England and moved to Otago when he was young. On October 30 1963, Phil was involved in a car crash which left him a quadriplegic.

Phil spent two years in hospital working through his rehabilitation, the accident had left him without power in his legs and severely reduced the strength in his arms and hands. He would strap the bat to his hand so he could still take part in his old past time, table tennis.

In April 1968 he got together with Fr Leo, Graham Marett, John Stott, George Thorn and Bill Lean and went to the Easter Nationals for table tennis. From Nationals, Phil was selected, to his disbelief, for the 1968 Paralympic Games in Israel. This was a massive achievement as no other quadriplegic had been selected before.

Below are two memories form Phil Read from a letter titled “dedication to the Originals from Otago and Southland” written in 2000.

“In Israel I was first up with my table tennis, and we went to this long hall with about 10 tables on one side as the other side was for supporters. I drew a guy from Sweden and while watching him hit out with his coach I smiled. When I got to the table inside a partitioned square, we were suddenly very isolated, never mind, get on with the game. I had my back to the crowd and won the first game. On changing ends, I suddenly saw the crowd along the wall and became aware of groups of people yelling for their various countrymen in a good 10 different languages and they all wanted to be louder than the next. This absolutely shot me to death, and I subsequently destroyed myself for the rest of the game.

Finished, a very painful experience had been learnt, mental hardness in sport was never in my wildest dreams but it happened.”

To the semi-professional athletes nowadays I say to them “good luck” but in my opinion you have the present glitz and glamour handed to you on a plate by some amazing people years ago, some still with us, some not.

You are now the beneficiaries so keep the profile up but never forget how you got there. People like Bill Lean, Nori Jefferson and myself have the memories and you can never take that away. In Israel at the closing night Mary Hopkins sang “Those were the Days” and if you know those words it exemplifies the passion of the Israelis and also the grind put in by the originals. Every time after that when I was in the company of Graeme Marett and that song was playing, he would look at me, smile and point, no words were needed for those were the days.”

Phil Read passed away on 3rd August 2018 but his memory will never be forgotten.

Phil Read 1971 Nationals

Evan Clulee

Evan Clulee was born in Waikouaiti, Otago in the early 1970’s. He was born with spina bifida, later having complications related to this, including developing scoliosis at the age of 12, but he never let these challenges hold hm back.


Evan was first introduced to Para Sport when his parents took him to watch a Wheelchair Basketball Game (Australia v England) at the 1974 Paraplegic Commonwealth Games in Dunedin. He was only three years old so does not remember the game, but it gave his parents insight into sporting opportunities available in the future. At these games Evan’s parents met Bill Lean, Graeme Marett, John Marrable and Dave and Trish Hill who all played a role in encouraging Evan in his sporting career.


At the age of 13, Evan had his first taste of wheelchair racing at the 1984 Otago Games. The games were held at the original Caledonian Grounds. He borrowed an adult racing chair, beating an older teenage athlete in his first race.


Evan’s father decided with the help of Trish and Dave, to make him a racing wheelchair.


He used his homemade racing wheelchair for the next seven years, including representing NZ as a senior at the 1989 FESPIC Games in Japan.


Evan worked at CCS in Dunedin from 1990-1991. During this time, he trained with Gavin Foulsham and Phil Edwards. The common ‘run’ was from North Dunedin to St Kilda Beach and back, an 18km route that would take 40 minutes. The three would also sprint train at the Calendonain grounds.


Evan gained New Zealand selection for the 1992 Paralympic Games in Barcelona where he competed in Athletics. Evan competed in the T53 wheelchair racing events 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m. He made all his semi-finals but did not make the final. In the 400m semi-final he went under the world record time but so did the other four athletes in front of him. He missed the final by one place. His 800m time set at these games is still a T53 New Zealand record.


These games received the first Paralympic Games television coverage in New Zealand, when Paul Holmes travelled with the team to later produce a one hour special called "12 Days of Glory – The Forgotten Athletes” (this can be accessed on TVNZ archives).


Otago was very well represented at these games with Dave Hill as Chef de Mission, and five of the 13 medals being from the Otago region. Evan Clulee, Gavin Foulsham, Jenny Newstead, Denise Gow, and Glenn Barnes.


Evan Clulee and Gavin Foulsham training prior to the 1992 Paralympics
Evan Clulee at the 1985 Nationals. 13 years old riding a homemade racing wheelchair.

Gavin Foulsham

Gavin Foulsham was born in Tapawera near Nelson and came to Dunedin to study Physical Education at the University of Otago. Gavin was born with no fibulas, so by the time he was six he had both legs removed, one below and one above the knee.

During his time at University, Gavin would train with his fellow teammates leading up to the 1992 Paralympic Games in Barcelona. Gavin also attended the Sydney Paralympic Games in 2000, where he achieved fifth in the 800m wheelchair race and has also completed the Boston marathon and the Coast to Coast.

Gavin eventually switched from wheelchair racing to para-rowing and in 2012 narrowly missed qualification to the London Paralympics. Now based in Hawkes Bay, Gavin continues to train, and represented Hawkes Bay rowing club in the 2019 FISA International Para-Rowing Regatta in Italy. Not bad for someone who first pulled on the Sliver Fern in 1989


Otago Daily Times photo prior to the 1992 Paralympic Games. From left to right: Denise Gow, Gavin Foulsham and Jenny Newstead.
Evan Clulee and Gavin Foulsham training prior to the 1992 Paralympics

Want to join in on the fun?

ParaFed Otago is one of the leading regional disability sport and recreation organisations in New Zealand. If you have always wanted to be involved in a sport or activity, but have been unsure where to start, then we are here to help you.