News & Updates

6 December 2023 • Para Athletics

Seated thrower Milly pursues LA Paralympic dreams

Milly Marshall-Kirkwood has emerged over the past year as one of the most exciting young Para athletes in New Zealand. Credit: (Alisha Lovrich).

As part of a new series of features focused on our Para athletes through the summer season we put the spotlight on rising teenage thrower Milly Marshall-Kirkwood.

Milly Marshall-Kirkwood may have only been engaged seriously in the sport for a little over a year but already the seated thrower from Taranaki looks to be one of the most exciting teenage Para talents in New Zealand with more than half an eye on the 2028 Los Angeles Paralympic Games.

Last month the 15-year-old Inglewood High School student added almost a metre-and-a-half on to her national open, U20, U19, U18 and U17 record for the discus F57 with an impressive throw of 17.89m at her home track. A performance which suggests her second full season in the sport promises much.

“It was an incredible feeling to better the record (in Inglewood) but it was a feeling that only lasted a few seconds because I thought now I want 18 metres or 20 metres. But seeing how far I’ve improved is amazing. When I started with my coach John Eden (a little over a year ago) he said I’d be throwing 20m within two years, so to only be just over two metres off that shows all the hard work is starting to pay off.”

Milly was born with Marfan syndrome – a condition which impacts on the connective tissues throughout the body. Over her first 15 years of her life, she has undergone heart surgery and multiple foot surgeries which leaves walking for long periods a painful process.

From around the age of “nine or ten” she competed annually at the Halberg Games, where she enjoyed competing in the shot and discus. However, with an inability to put weight on her front of her feet she would be prone to losing her balance and would stumble out of the circle.

But the course of her athletics journey changed after Athletics NZ Para Lead Raylene Bates was present at a ‘Have a Go’ athletics day in Inglewood in the spring of last year.

“She saw my length and how suited I was to the throws,” adds Milly, who stands at 6ft tall. “Raylene spoke to a Halberg advisor and they said it would be a great idea if I did seated throwing.”

Not that Milly was initially too enthused by the prospect.

“I knew no one else did seated throwing in my classification, so I didn’t want to compete in an event where I was the only one. I wanted to compete against others to show how good I was.”

But after her father, Rob, got in contact with Athletics NZ Throws Coach and Paralympian John Eden, Milly was persuaded to give the sport a go under his guidance. After a little more than a month together, the young thrower competed at the 2022 New Zealand Secondary Schools Track, Field and Road Championships at Inglewood winning gold medals and setting U17 national shot (5.80m) and U17 discus (11.62m) records.

Encouraged by the performance she continued to go from strength to strength in her first season in the sport. At the Sola Power Throwers Meet in the Hutt Valley she set an open New Zealand record of 15.36m for the discus F57 and an U20 record of 5.11m (3kg) in the shot put F57.

Then at the Jennian Homes New Zealand Track & Field Championships in Wellington in March she bettered her national open discus F57 record out to 16.53m and climaxed her season at the Australian Championships in Brisbane.

In Queensland she did not quite meet her personal expectations, but nonetheless it was a worthwhile undertaking.   

“I did okay in Brisbane, but it was more the experience,” she says. “I got to cope with the heat, I was up against other competitors, I got to experience the whole process.”

Stepping up to six gym sessions a week during the off season, Milly believes she has made huge gains and is very excited about what lies ahead. 

“Physically I’ve improved thanks to spending more time in the gym, she says. “I’ve worked with nutritionists and personal trainers. I’m developing the right body to be an athlete.”

More recently re-introducing one or two throws session per week – where she trains on the family farm with her seated chair – she was continued to make progress and owes John Eden a huge debt of gratitude.

Catching up once or twice a week with Zoom sessions – where John would watch the throws sessions being filmed – he has been a key part of her success.

“John is incredible,” adds Milly. “He is always so honest and I know if he didn’t see the potential in me he wouldn’t be coaching me.”

Pleased but not totally satisfied with her 17.89m early season effort in Inglewood, Milly moves on the New Zealand Secondary Schools Championships in Christchurch this week (8-10 December) seeking more. Hoping to peak for the Jennian Homes New Zealand Track & Field Championships in Wellington next March she has set herself some clear goals for the rest of the season.

“In the next three to four months I would like to throw 18m, although 19m would be even better. I find setting little goals towards the bigger goals are a lot easier.

“I prefer the discus because my long limbs are better suited to that event than the shot put. But I still do the shot put because it means when I go to meets, I get to throw 12 times rather than six (if I just did the discus).”

Too young to compete at the World Para Athletics Championships in Kobe the Year 11 student hopes to centre her international goals around the Australian Championships in Adelaide and possibly the Oceania Championships in Suva, Fiji. While the longer-term ambitions are clear.

“LA (and the 2028 Paralympics) is the big aim. All my sponsorships run until 2028 with that goal in mind.”

***Milly was not the only Para athlete to break a national record over the past month or so. A list of the other confirmed New Zealand Para records to fall see below.

Brian Wilson

  • Shot Put F20 Men’s U17 – 6.35m (5kg) – Auckland – 28 October
  • Discus F20 Men’s U17 – 19.13m (1.5kg) – Auckland – 28 October

Jaxon Woolley

  • 200m T38 Men’s open, U20, U19, U18 – 25.41 (1.3) – Tauranga – 28 October

Michael Whittaker

  • Half Marathon T13 Men’s Open – 1:14:19 – Auckland – 29 October