Para-athletics prodigy shares the story behind his meteoric success

Keegan Pitcher

To celebrate Robert Walters’ sponsorship of Athletics NZ’s Performance Potential Squad (PPS), we’re asking young athletics stars to share their stories. Today we meet para-athlete, 

Keegan Pitcher, who began competitive running aged 18 and within a year, won two bronze medals at the World Paralympic Championships in London. 

1. At Robert Walters, we’re passionate about discovering people with high potential. Who first identified your aptitude for para-athletics?

I knew that I loved running, but as someone with cerebral palsy, I didn’t know how to get involved in para-athletics. I was at the Junior Disability Games when a coach spotted me and said, “Hey, I’ve been watching you, I think you have a bit of talent and you could go quite far. I’ll try and find you a coach.” Eventually he took me on himself. In 11 months, I went from someone who couldn’t run that well, to competing in London and being third in the world over two events. It was an amazing feeling because I was only there to gain experience and have fun. I proved to myself that I can do something if I set my mind to it.

2. You’re currently part of Athletics NZ’s PPS programme, of which Robert Walters is a sponsor. The PPS encourages athletes to aim high. What is your goal?

Right now, I want to qualify for the World Para Athletics Championships in Dubai this year. We’ve got a time in mind that will qualify me (probably about 54 seconds) and then it’s trying to run that time over 400 metres at a Meet this year. Our end goal though is 50 seconds or faster for Tokyo Paralympics in August 2020.

3. At Robert Walters, we believe that high performance is best achieved through collaboration. Can you tell us about the team who are preparing you for success?

We’ve got quite a big team including my parents, coach, sports massage therapist, physio, doctor, nutritionist and a mental psych. I also have an athlete life advisor who is helping me strike the right balance between university, sport and life. So when I’m on the track, I’m representing myself and I’m also representing everyone who helped me get there. Most of my team are involved because of the PPS high performance system. It feels great to have their support - it makes a huge difference. 

4. What have you learned from having that elite team around you?

Being surrounded by an elite team has taught me some valuable life skills – the most important being organisational skills. There are so many people involved, so I need to plan my week in advance to ensure I can fit everyone in, plus training, plus study. It is important for me to make sure I know what’s coming up so I’m not letting anyone down. 

I proved to myself that I can do something if I set my mind to it.

5. What has been your biggest setback to date, and what did you learn from it?

The biggest obstacle I’ve faced was having my para classification changed. That’s a physical challenge and also a mental challenge. I went from having two bronze medals to being dropped right down and struggling to qualify for Worlds due to the classification change. I’m racing people with one or more limbs moderately affected by cerebral palsy. That’s why having a mental psych is so important for me right now. The competition has just stepped up around me. It’s still do-able, I still know I can make it. But I’ve got to make sure I’m using the support that’s available to give me the best chance possible.


Robert Walters helps NZ athletics achieve their potential, find out more about our sponsorship.

Our athletes all have their own story to tell, read their stories here.