Michael honoured for a lifetime of sporting achievement

July 20, 2021

Michael Holdsworth was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queen’s Birthday Honours, making him the first person with Down syndrome to receive this honour.

He was awarded the MZNM for his services to Special Olympics and it marks his 32 years as an athlete leader, advocate and participant in two World Games and his service to the New Zealand Down Syndrome Association.

Michael is passionate about sport of all kinds – especially the Hurricanes – which created an immediate bond with TVNZ Breakfast presenter John Campbell during an interview about his Queen’s Birthday Honour.

Breakfast co-host Jenny-May Clarkson asked Michael what was wrong with the Hurricanes – but John jumped in and told Michael not to answer the question, saying there was nothing wrong with the Hurricanes. “I agree with John there,” Michael answered, telling John that his favourite ‘Cane’ was Ardie Savea.

“I am quite proud to be the first Kiwi with Down syndrome. I am really proud and my family is proud with all the years I have done for the sport,” he said.

Michael has been a competitive alpine skier and swimmer in Special Olympics New Zealand events in New Zealand and overseas. He has competed at the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria twice – in 1993 and in 2017.

In 2010 he was named one of Special Olympics’ first Global Messengers – ambassadors working in the community to promote the impact of Special Olympics on the lives of people with disabilities. In that role he has presented at seminars around New Zealand. He was a guest at the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles, where he presented a medal at the swimming competition. In 2017 he was given the honour of lighting the Flame of Hope together with the New Zealand Police Assistant Commissioner in the lead-up to the Special Olympics Summer Games in Wellington.

In 2019 Michael was part of a team involved in coaching young children with intellectual disabilities through the Special Olympics Young Athletes sport and play programme.

Michael is the longest-serving staff member in the IHC Library, where he’s worked for nearly 27 years. He works on the front desk at the library, greeting visitors and dealing with enquiries. He also mentors people who come to the library on work placements.

IHC Group Chief Executive Ralph Jones says Michael has always been a committed sportsman. But this award recognises his role in supporting and leading others to participate and achieve.

Caption: Michael Holdsworth is a world-class alpine skier, competing at the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria in 1993 and 2017. He won a bronze medal in 2017. Photo: Special Olympics New Zealand