Man at the helm of dreams

Stew Hewett is looking forward to the Special Olympics World Winter Games which are being held in...
Stew Hewett is looking forward to the Special Olympics World Winter Games which are being held in the United States in February. Photo by Sally Rae.
Oamaru police constable Stew Hewett is head of delegation for the New Zealand team competing in the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Boise, Idaho, in February. He speaks to Sally Rae about his involvement with the organisation.

Stew Hewett expects his involvement with Special Olympics will probably be a lifetime commitment.

"I still very much enjoy it. I don't think I really want to retire. I'll keep doing it as long as I can give somebody some enjoyment," he said.

Mr Hewett (56), a senior constable with Oamaru police, has been heavily involved with the organisation since about 1991 when he was farming at Dunback. When he moved to Oamaru in 1993, he joined Special Olympics North Otago and is now co-ordinator, chairman, "dogsbody, coach - you name it". He is also on the national board.

His first international trip was to Hobart in 1998 as a coach when New Zealand received an invitation to attend the Australian national games and a team of 28 was sent.

In 2001, he was head of delegation for the World Winter Games in Alaska, with the New Zealand team comprising three athletes and two coaches.

Next year's games have a much bigger squad - 11 athletes, five coaches and Mr Hewett, along with a group of 25 supporters.

Noel Joyce, also of Oamaru, is assistant head of delegation and assistant snowboard coach, while his son Dan Joyce is competing in the alpine skiing - the first North Otago athlete to compete in the world winter games.

The branch has raised $8000 to send Dan to the games, with a further $3500 to go. Firewood is being sold as a fundraiser and there is a donation tin at Latitude 45.

Skiers Thomas van der Lugt (Dunedin) and Aaron Wild (Southland) and snowboarder John Halliday (Alexandra) are also in the team.

Laughing, Mr Hewett said that head of delegation sounded "a lot more important than it actually is".

"The biggest thing I believe . . . is to make sure these guys have the trip of a lifetime," he said.

Special Olympians usually only had one, or two, overseas trips in their sporting careers and he wanted to make it as enjoyable as possible for them and their parents.

He was also "where the buck stops" and was responsible everyone got to where they had to be and returned home each day.

The games, which are being held between February 7 and 13, are expected to attract up to 3000 athletes from more than 86 nations, competing in alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, figure skating, floor hockey, snowboard, snowshoe racing and speed skating.

The New Zealand team will assemble in Auckland on January 29, flying to the US the following day. A host town cultural exchange programme is operating before the opening ceremony in Boise on February 7. Adjusting to the weather will be a major factor, given the athletes were going from "jandals . . . to snowboots", Mr Hewett said.

The closing ceremony is on February 13 and the New Zealand team will then spend two days in Los Angeles before flying home. He was excited about the trip, as he should be because it was a privilege to do it, he said.

His biggest highlight was in 2003 when his daughter Katrina, now 30, won a gold medal swimming at the world summer games in Ireland. Watching her race and seeing her join in with the spirit of the games and have fun was "amazing", he said.

Mr Hewett has gained an "exceptional" amount from his involvement with Special Olympics. It had provided a great balance from his work in the police and he gained a lot of satisfaction from seeing athletes achieve. He has introduced a lot of others - including police officers - to volunteering in the sports.

Helpers and volunteers played an "exceptional" role in Special Olympics, he said.

An annual ski camp at Cardrona in August had become an "annual pilgrimage" and it was like a family event, he said.



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