In 1986, a young Nigel Cash stepped onto the field as a primary school athlete, embarking on a journey that would transform his life in ways he could never have imagined. Little did he know that this first taste of competition would eventually lead him to become a Special Olympics Coach, as well as a source of inspiration for the intellectual disability (ID) community in New Zealand and beyond.
Nigel’s athletic abilities were clear from the start. He took part in many sporting events in school and was soon offered an opportunity to represent New Zealand in high jump, at the Special Olympics World Summer Games, held at Minneapolis-St Paul, USA in 1991. Nigel has never competed before in this sport, but that did not deter him.
He trained hard and secured a gold medal in the high jump and a silver in the 1500 meters. These victories marked a turning point in his life, igniting a passion for competition that would carry him far beyond the athletic field.
Upon returning home, Nigel continued to excel, venturing into other competitions across New Zealand, particularly half marathons, where he clinched two victories and achieved an impressive personal best time of one hour and 12 minutes. As his athletic career evolved, so did his desire to give back to the community that had nurtured his spirits, so, at the age of 20, after he found a good job, Nigel also volunteered to be a fireman.
Nigel shares, “I wanted to give back to SO New Zealand all of what they had given me in my time as an athlete. I also want to share my knowledge that I have with other coaches and athletes wanting to follow my path. I feel it is all about giving back as I have done with the Volunteer Fire Service. They made it possible for me to attend the World Summer Games in 1991, so I joined the fire service when I was old enough to give back to the community who supported me.”
Nigel’s transition from athlete to coach was a testament to his determination and resilience. Despite doubts from others, he embraced this new role wholeheartedly. Armed with a dedication to learning, Nigel obtained coaching qualifications, absorbed coaching strategies, and designed training programs to shape his athletes into the best versions of themselves.
In 2019, Nigel was appointed as an athletics coach for the Special Olympics New Zealand team at the World Games in the UAE. This marked the fulfilment of a dream he had since his days as an athlete and was a finalist at the 2019 Altitude Award in Auckland. His passion for coaching only grew stronger, culminating in another appointment as an athletics coach for the 2023 World Games team in Berlin.
This achievement was made even more special as Nigel’s niece, Melissa, was competing as an athlete. Nigel’s dedication to coaching transcended mere training; it involved building bonds with his athletes, a connection that united them in their pursuit of excellence.
As a coach, Nigel faced challenges head-on, managing athletes spread across New Zealand, guiding them remotely, and shaping their training regimens. Despite the lack of physical proximity, his unwavering support and guidance kept the athletes motivated and prepared for the grand stage of the World Games. His leadership and mentorship have not only propelled athletes to achieve their personal bests but have also inspired them to dream without limits.
When asked what he wanted his athletes to take away from their experience, Nigel responded, “That it was a happy and joyful time and that they did their best regardless of them winning or losing. Also, that they know how proud we are of them no matter what.”
Nigel’s journey from school athlete to gold medalist and national coach on the world stage is a story of triumph over adversity. His evolution reflects his unyielding determination to give back, to inspire, and to break barriers for himself and others, proving that the human spirit knows no limits, and with dedication and belief, remarkable achievements are within reach. Subscribe to follow Nigel’s story as he joins thousands of #DreamChasers around Asia Pacific on Human Race, our storytelling platform.