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NZ-Samoan para-athlete on verge of booking ticket to Paris

William Sangster

Up-and-coming amputee Peter Cowan has the Paris Paralympics firmly in his sights

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Up-and-coming amputee athlete has Paris Paralympics in his sights.

An emerging amputee athlete is on the cusp of qualifying for the Paralympics in Paris.

Peter Cowan, 28 (Ngati Kahungunu), is from Hawke's Bay and is also Samoan, hailing from the villages of Falefa and Satupaʻitea.

Cowan competes in an adaptive version of waka ama (Para va'a), a division at the Paralympics.

He is preparing to compete in the ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships in May, where he needs a top-4 finish in the final to secure a spot in Paris.

Cowan says he values the sport because it allows him to connect with his people and his cultures.

“Our community encourages all to take part and promotes cultural identity and values. Being of Māori and Samoan heritage is cool because this sport has been brought forth from these Polynesian origins.”

He trains six days a week, with a session on the water and a trip to the gym for strength and conditioning.

Qualifying and putting on that black singlet at the Paralympic Games will mean a lot to him.

“It’s something I’ve had my sights on for a while now. The journey has been filled with many learnings and is making me a better version of myself in the process."

“All I know is that me and my team will be stoked.”

At 15, as he cycled home from school to train for the IronMāori triathlon, Cowan was hit by a car.

Fortunately, two nurses arrived on the scene and saved his life, but he had to have his right leg amputated.

He discovered waka ama two years later and has not looked back since.

The Waka Ama Nationals took place last month at Lake Karāpiro, where he placed 8th of 12 in the Premier Men’s 250m dash, which is a general rather para event.

Cowan is still excited thinking about being at the start-line of an able-bodied waka ama race.

But he admits the thought of competing against the top able-bodied men's division used to make him "shrink inside”.

“We have some absolute world-class paddlers in our backyard, and it’s humbling to share the water with them all. I still buzz out, lining up with our guys, but I also take my learnings and sense of belonging in our inclusive community."

“Embracing it all because we’re all trying to put our best performances together and display what our sport is all about.”

Cowan described the event as feeling like coming home.

“It’s such a mana-enhancing atmosphere to be in. I had fun competing with old friends again and sharing the water with some pretty cool paddlers.”

His advice to any young people who are discovering their passion after suffering a life-altering injury?

“Follow your curiosity and give it a go, because you’ll never know unless you try. If it’s not for you, then keep searching for something that speaks to you."

“Surround yourself with people who are passionate about what you want to do, challenge the status quo together, and watch the barriers break one by one.”

Hero Image: Peter Cowam competing at the Waka Ama Sprint Nationals 2024.

Photo/ Waka Ama NZ

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