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Determined mum who became advocate for young disabled people to receive Local Hero award

The New Zealander of the Year will be announced tomorrow night, but the event will also honour community leaders with its Local Hero awards.

Pippa Wellstead, a determined advocate for young people with disabilities in Central Otago, is one of those heroes. 

"It was like, 'Holy moly!' I did feel very honoured and very special, but it was totally unnecessary,” Mrs Wellstead told 1 NEWS.

The announcement of the New Zealander of the Year finalists will be livestreamed on 1 NEWS NOW on Wednesday evening from 9pm.

In Alexandra, she's a strong voice for young people with disabilities.

It all started when her son, Jack, was diagnosed with Fragile X Syndrome, a genetic disorder effecting development and cognitive function, at 18 months old.

Jack Wellstead recently completed a 10km run. Source: 1 NEWS

According to Fragile X New Zealand, the syndrome is the world’s leading cause of inherited intellectual disability and affects around 12,000 people in New Zealand alone.

"We were told that he'd have very poor muscle tone, possibly wouldn't walk, would be non-verbal,” said Mrs Wellstead.

Fast forward almost 20 years to today, and Jack is an extremely social, tall and athletic man who has just completed a 10 kilometre running event.

"He is, he is my inspiration, he is,” said Mrs Wellstead.

However, it hasn't been easy getting to this point - particularly trying to navigate school and support services. So Mrs Wellstead became an advocate for others.

Her advocacy has ranged from starting The Awesome Group, which hosted weekly social events for kids with disabilities, to her work with the Special Olympics.

It seems to be never enough for Mrs Wellstead, who’s now developing new ideas.

"Jack would love to ride a bike but hasn't got the stability or the balance,” Mrs Wellstead said.

Living with her family right by the Otago Rail Trail, she was inspired to start The Good Life Charitable Trust and raised funds to buy a tandem bike for people with disabilities.

“It's available for hire or for loan to other families that have got children with disabilities that ordinarily wouldn't be able to ride the trail,” said Mrs Wellstead.

The bike is stored and maintained by hire company Trail Journeys in Clyde. It’s free for families who have a member with disabilities to hire for their trip, and it’s already making a difference for active families.

"It's just fantastic when you get a phone call and you say, 'Yes, we can make that work for you'. It's great, gives me a real buzz,” said Mrs Wellstead.

But even this wasn't enough for the incredibly determined mum.

"She got on the phone to the other parents and said, 'Let's make this happen',” local teacher Renee Harrex told 1 NEWS.

Mrs Wellstead’s teamed up with the local teacher, and some other parents, to launch The Good Life Day Programme.

The programme takes place three days a week to help young adults with disabilities, who have just graduated, transition from school into the community.

“I hope one day I can get these guys to a stage where they're living reasonably independently,” said Ms Harrex.

Mrs Wellstead says none of these projects would have been possible without the local community’s support along the way.

“You've got to make things happen in a small community," she said.  "I think if you ask for it, most people are happy to help.”

She's a mother - and reluctant hero - whose passion is changing lives.

The announcement of the New Zealander of the Year finalists will be livestreamed on 1 NEWS NOW on Wednesday evening from 9pm.

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    Pippa Wellstead is set to be honoured tomorrow at the New Zealander of the Year awards. Source: 1 NEWS