A sparkle in his eye

I met Gary Sailey at one of Tauranga’s Hindi celebrations. He saw me sitting alone among the large gathering of people and came over to say ‘hi’, which is, I’ve discovered, a great way to start getting to know someone.

Gary started life with cerebral palsy on his right side. Undeterred, he threw himself into school sports. His spirit was limitless and he was determined to become a Black Cap.

“As a little kid I wanted to represent New Zealand,” says Gary, “but I didn’t know my limitations. As you grow up, you realise something is different. Kids started asking me questions like ‘we’re faster than you, how come you are slow?’”

His family sent him to India for two years to get his arm stretched out. He underwent electrical shock therapy on a daily basis with his arm pulled out for 15-20 minutes.

“At one point three people were pulling and holding my arm for an hour. It was very painful.”

It was so intense he felt like giving up.

His grandfather, Mohan lal Saily, and great-uncle Jatinder pal Saily took care of him in India, with parents Roman and Raksha Saily supporting him through this difficult time.

“I found other people there who were very positive. One lady carried her 15-year-old child on her back every day because he couldn’t walk or catch the bus. She had a sparkle in her eye, and was always happy and smiling.

“He had cerebral palsy on both sides, couldn’t talk and was also mentally unstable. These guys are so positive. I thought ‘why can’t I be positive?’

“We used to have the school cross country at Waipuna Park,” Gary recalls. “The teacher would ask whether I wanted to race. I knew I’d come last but I said ‘I will race’.

“The thing was to be part of everything and to not feel different. If you start feeling different then you start being treated differently.

“At the end everybody would start yelling out my name and clapping, and that would give me that extra kick. It was an amazing feeling.”

Reflecting on life, he recognises the value of building relationships with others.

“When you do that, you start feeling good. That’s what I did.

“In other countries you have to fight for yourself. If you don’t, nobody cares. I found with that attitude people are so much more positive. You learn that you have to take care of yourself.

“I realised not complaining all the time is how you live life, as well as building relationships. The pain was still there but it didn’t affect me so much mentally. When you change, psychologically everything else starts to change as well.

“In this world you never know what people are suffering. People are without water, and everybody has problems. Our problems are different. Life is not about complaining. If you’re happy with yourself, that’s it.”