Disabled mentor a world champion

JODY O'CALLAGHAN
Last updated 05:00 23/12/2013
Gary Endacott
Stacy Squires

INSPIRING: Gary Endacott, who has run marathons and climbed mountains, says you have to do "the best with what you've got".

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Gary Endacott's philosophy is "make something bigger in your life than your biggest perceived hassle".

His biggest perceived "hassle" was his cerebral palsy and the initial claims he would never walk. His "something bigger" included climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and running the New York Marathon four times.

Endacott still says his most life-changing experience was securing a job with the Ministry of Education and becoming the only disability facilitator with a disability. He loves helping others find their paths in life.

Some cringe at the word "disability", but Endacott is the first to acknowledge he has one.

"I just do not let it be a bigger part of my life than it needs to be."

Endacott's drive to overcome cerebral palsy started with his mother teaching him to walk by standing clothesline pegs up on the ground and having him gingerly walk over them without knocking them over.

He still has problems with balance, but it never stopped the son of former Kiwis coach Frank Endacott playing league and becoming a world champion at disabled tennis.

He remembers his mother sitting him up on a chair on his first day of school and explaining that he would be mocked, pushed over and "called a cripple". While she didn't agree with it, she wanted him to be prepared.

"It was the best favour she could've ever done me.

"I'm glad she's on my side, I tell you that."

With the support of his three brothers, Endacott got through his primary, intermediate and secondary schooling by giving everything a go.

He worked cleaning hotels, packing cheque books into boxes and working in customer service when he finished school.

Endacott got a foot in the door at the ministry thanks to a scheme that funded government departments to hire disabled staff on a two-year contract.

They "gave him the nod" in 2001, then created a permanent role for him.

"I asked why they didn't have a disability adviser when there were so many people with disabilities."

At 45, he has now been working for more than 10 years in the role.

It is a good opportunity to be a role model for "your own people", and he has about 35 people under 21 with whom he keeps in regular contact.

Nicknamed "Mr Keep it Real", is not worried about winning a popularity contest with schools or the pupils he works with.

His priority is the person with the disability, but he is not too scared to point out that "as for this part of your life, it's not going to change".

"It's about doing the best with what you've got."

His work is also about changing attitudes, and making sure families have the right expectations and aspirations, he says.

His job involved a lot of "talking about stuff the people don't always want to talk about".

"Every time I ask someone to do something, I believe they can do it."

The aim is to "minimise the disability factors and maximise their potential".

"I have expectations on the system but also the families and what we're going to work on for their child's disability."

Endacott also juggles spending time with his wife and two sons with hours of voluntary work.

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It was this effort that won him the People's Choice Award at the 2013 Attitude Awards, which recognise the achievements of New Zealanders living with a disability.

Ministry of Education special education manager Brian Coffey says Endacott offers "invaluable" energy and hope for the families and kids he works with.

"He inspires, he's a great team member, a role model and a reminder to all in his team about the potential each of us have, and that disability doesn't have to be a defining characteristic of a person's life."

Lindy McLachlan, whose 22-year-old son James is still being mentored by Endacott, says he is an "amazing guy" whose help has been invaluable.

"He is like a motivator."

Endacott is part of a national education taskforce looking at the way disabled people are included in education, and believes the biggest issue is the lack of employment options once they leave school.

"There's just not enough starting points for people with disabilities and that needs to be addressed."

Decision-makers need to make disabilities a priority, he says.

"If it's not a priority to the school or society, then it makes it hard for someone like myself to do as well as what you need to."

- The Press

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