Real Life

Jaden’s Paralympic dream: ‘I owe it to myself’

The record-breaking wheelchair racer isn’t letting his disability hold him back
Pictures: Robert Trathen

When Jaden Movold had a full neuro-psychological examination done as a child, his parents Lise Baldwin and Neil Movold were told he had average potential.

But there’s nothing average about this Auckland para-athlete, who farewells his teen years next month with the huge goal of competing in the 2028 Paralympic Games in LA.

Jaden, who has endured 32 major operations after being born with a severe form of spina bifida, looks set to earn a place on the podium, already achieving personal best times that put him in the top 80% of wheelchair competitors.

“I’ve been told many times that because I have this disability, I can’t go out and live my life to the best of my ability,” he tells Woman’s Day. “I owe it to myself to do it. I intend to see how far I can go.

“At the biggest school in Australasia, Rangitoto College, I was deputy head boy. I got Top Male Academic and Sporting Male of the Year in years 12 and 13. I’ve done 30 Weetbix Triathlons and got NCEA Level 3 with excellence.

“I want to prove that people with disabilities don’t have to sit back and let things come to them just because society tends to view you as helpless. You can create your own opportunities.”

Lise and Neil were living in Bermuda when they found out they were pregnant with their second child. They were adding sibling for then-toddler Paige.

But despite feeling like it was a healthy pregnancy, Lise had an ultrasound at 18 weeks that suggested Jaden may have physical challenges.

With Dame Valerie Adams.

“They proceeded to tell me he had possible spina bifida,” recalls Lise. “We could do an amniocentesis and if we found chromosomal issues, we could book in for a termination. That’s all said to me while I’m sitting with my two-year-old holding my hand.

“The terminology changes when you have a child that is deemed ‘not perfect’. It almost became ‘a foetus with anomalies’.

“But we didn’t see him as a problem. We just thought, ‘He’s our baby. This is what life has given us.’”

Born in Canada, Lise had immigrated to New Zealand with her parents when she was young. She was travelling after university when she met Neil, a Canadian from Ontario.

With pole vaulter Eliza McCartney.

Upon Jaden’s potential diagnosis, the family opted to relocate back to Auckland when Lise was seven months pregnant. They sought medical care from Starship Hospital.

Within two days of being born in May 2004, Jaden’s medical onslaught began. Spina bifida means “open spine” and Jaden was born with vertebrae outside his body, protected only by a thin membrane. His condition meant he also had 12 other anomalies. Some of which included malformed kidneys, and needed to have a colostomy that was reversed a few years later.

A “little fighter from day one”, Jaden also needed rods inserted into his spine as he grew and, throughout his 32 big operations, his stress and fear only grew.

Jaden’s had 32 major operations in his 19 years.

“Up to the age of probably 12, I had a lot of anxieties when I was in hospital,” he confides. “I found surgery really difficult and I have a needle phobia as well. They had to hold me down quite often when putting the mask on – that was really traumatising.”

It was approximately eight years ago when his medical team trialled giving him his anaesthetic via a needle in his foot. He has no feeling below his knees.

Neil says that was just one example of the Starship team trying to not only find a solution, but also devise ways to give Jaden quality of life.

The young go-getter has been an inspiration to his parents Neil and Lise.

“They were his biggest advocates,” says the devoted dad. “When you’re sitting in a wheelchair, your knees will atrophy. Being a swimmer, you want to be streamlined, so they purposely engineered plates for his knees so his legs would straighten out.

“You could tell they love working with children. It’s not just about fixing them up and sending them on their way. It’s more, ‘How are we going to make a difference so their life can continue as normal as possible?’”

To acknowledge the medical team’s care, and their desire to help fulfill his goals and his dreams, Jaden added becoming Starship Foundation’s first ambassador to his list of accolades.

He wants to use the opportunity to increase awareness, raise funds, and help show other children growing up with disabilities that it doesn’t need to destroy their hopes and passions.

Jaden’s running out of room for all of his awards.

“I’ve spent more time than the average person at Starship Hospital,” Jaden tells. “It has had a significant impact on my personal growth and has played an essential role in shaping my interests. The doctors at Starship helped me perform at a high level in my sports. Even though they could have just focused on improving my quality of life.

“In contrast, I’ve seen a lot of the inequities people with disabilities face in New Zealand. I want to make a difference – make it better.”

Jaden is stubborn and tenacious. While he takes his training seriously, he has a repertoire of dark jokes at the ready. He’s a self-described “sit-down comedian”!

Even as the first wheelchair user to cross the finish line in March’s 8.6km Round the Bays race in Auckland, he dressed as a shark because it suited the event’s aquatic theme. He finished with an impressive time of just over 19 minutes.

“I’m like other 19-year-olds. I go to university [he’s studying psychology part-time], I have a passion for sport, I’m on TikTok and PlayStation, and I hang out with my friends. I love to party and I love shoe shopping.

The uni student attacked Round the Bays as a shark!

“But I take my sport very seriously. My favourite race is the 5000 metres and my personal best time is 11 minutes and 27 seconds.”

Jaden understands that he’ll have to secure some significant overseas titles himself to ensure his selection for the Paralympics, and he’ll need to fund this himself.

To secure his spot at the 2028 Games, Jaden must train every day. But he has the backing of a highly skilled team that includes two track coaches, a mental performance coach, strength-conditioning coaches, a nutritionist and one of the most successful world Paralympic coaches of all time.

“It’s just as well the biggest part of my personality is stubbornness,” Jaden says. “Just watch me!”

To help him fundraise for the 2028 Paralympics, visit his Givealittle page.

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