Tony Christiansen

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Tony Christiansen
Tony Christiansen - Inspirational Speaker @ Million Dollar Roundtable Toronto.jpg
Christiansen at the Million Dollar Round Table, Toronto Canada.
Anthony S. Christiansen

(1958-10-23) 23 October 1958 (age 60)
Tauranga, New Zealand
OccupationInspirational Speaker
Motivational speaker
Years active1998–present

Anthony (Tony) Steven Christiansen (born 23 October 1958) is a motivational and inspirational speaker from New Zealand who lost his legs as a result of a train accident in his childhood.

He has challenged himself in numerous sporting and business areas, is the author of several best-selling books[1][2] and has appeared in a number of TV documentaries.

In his presentations, Christiansen starts by climbing a 1.5-metre high scaffolding[3] and exudes a strong presence.[4] His theme is self belief;[5] "Your attitude determines your altitude in life".[6] He shares his life story and the secrets to his success[3] and encourages his audience to set their own challenges, rather than accept the limitations imposed by their own attitudes and other people's perception.[2]

Early life [1][edit]

Christiansen was born in Tauranga, New Zealand. His father Bernard worked in a timber yard and his mother Doreen was a homemaker who immigrated to New Zealand from England after the World War II. He is the youngest of 3 siblings which include brother Frank and sister Susan.

Tony Christiansen day after his accident.
Christiansen days after his accident.

Hit by a train[edit]

On the morning of 3 June 1967 which was Queen's Birthday weekend, Christiansen had followed friend Gary Winters and his father Mick to the railway yard near Te Maunga to bag coal for sale to raise money for charity. As the two children were crossing the tracks, the train shunted backwards dragging Christiansen under and the dual set of wheels ran over his legs almost severing them.[7]

As a result of this accident, both his legs could not be saved and were amputated. 48 hours after the accident, Christiansen was found sitting up in a wheelchair and in good spirits.[7]


Christiansen very quickly got on with life after his wounds healed. His extraordinary achievements following the accident made him New Zealand's most notable motivational speaker[8] and one of the world's most interesting.[4]

Tony Christiansen Swim.
Christiansen young with no legs but a very abled swimmer.

Confidence in the water[edit]

After his accident, many people including strangers, visited Christiansen and wanted to help. Among them, 2 people made a significant difference to Christiansen’s life. They were swimming coaches Dave Franklin and Allan Guthrie.[9]

Even before his accident, Christiansen hated water but Franklin and Guthrie were very persistent in teaching the now disabled young boy how to swim. Within 5 months of his first lesson, less than a year after his accident, Christiansen at 10 years of age, swam a mile non-stop.[10]

The following year, Christiansen joined the Tauranga Swimming Club and continued to improve as a swimmer while he became physically stronger. He set a goal to compete in the Tauranga mayor’s annual sponsored swimming race held by the Lions Club.

On 6 May 1971, Christiansen came just behind the mayor Bob Owen in that 2-mile (3.2 km) race [11] and in February 1974, he beat the mayor in the Annual Harbour "Swimathon".[12]

Surf Lifesaving[edit]

During his years in school, Christiansen was alienated from most of the physical activities. In his fifth form, week-long school camps were held, none of which he could participate in. As a result, his old swimming coach Dave Franklin invited him to join the surf lifesaving camp at the Omanu surf club. By the end of that week, Christiansen earned his surf lifesaving Bronze Medallion (New Zealand and Australia) [13][14] and joined the Omanu Pacific Surf Lifesaving Club.

In 1978, Christiansen was granted a Special Achievement Award from World Life Saving [13][15] which today is known as the International Life Saving Federation. In the same year, he gained his instructor’s certificate.[15]

Christiansen remained a member of the Omanu Pacific Surf Lifesaving Club and worked as a surf lifeguard until the age of 23. He was also the club's canoe team captain.[13] Throughout his career as a surf lifesaver, Christiansen made 33 rescues.[4][9] He was believed to be the only paraplegic lifeguard in the Southern Hemisphere.[16]

Only 16 years of age at the 1975 FESPIC Games, winning silver in the 100 metre sprints, gold in javelin and swimming.

Athletics Career & Representing New Zealand[edit]

Around the same time Christiansen got into surf lifesaving, he also became involved in the disabled sports movement. It wasn’t long before he set a goal to represent New Zealand internationally.[17]

Christiansen trained for the National Disabled Games in Wellington and competed in wheelchair racing, shot put, discus, javelin and swimming. In 1972, he was nominated for a New Zealand Herald Junior Sports Award which he did not win but was recognized by the judges who included Yvette Corlett (1952 Olympic long jump champion), Murray Halberg and Don Oliver.[18] In 1976, he was nominated again and this time he won the award for paraplegic sports.[14]

During his career in athletics, Christiansen held several local records and was the area pentathlon champion in 1978.[13]

Christiansen’s other international sports achievements include:

Throughout his athletics career, Christiansen represented New Zealand 5 times at the World Games, FESPIC Games and the Paralympic Qualifying Games and won 35 medals including 12 golds, 17 silver and 6 bronze medals.[1][13]

Tony Christiansen Signwriting.
Christiansen at his best trade as a signwriter.

The Successful Business[1][edit]

In the book about his life, Race You To The Top, Christiansen described his performance in school as "having artistic talent but never very academic".

While at school, Christiansen worked part-time doing signwriting jobs on stockcars and the same for Woolworths. These credentials later led to a job as a ticket writer in New World (supermarket). At the same time, he also worked for the Tauranga Museum where he learned many new skills.[17]

Christiansen tried applying for jobs with signwriting companies but his numerous attempts failed. He eventually hassled Lance Styles, the owner of Commercial Signs, enough to land a job. Within 3 months, he had proven himself and impressed Styles who made him foreman.

Christiansen later left Commercial Signs. In 1985, he returned and took a stake in the company. In 1995, he bought over the rest of the shareholding and became the sole owner of the company. For the next 2 years, he turned it into one of the largest commercial signwriting business in New Zealand and sold it in 1997 [4] to begin his career as a professional speaker.

Tony Christiansen Race Car Champion.
Christiansen won the race at Baypark Speedway.

Motor Sports[edit]

From a young age, Christiansen fell in love with cars and motor sports, picking up go-karting at the age of 12. He gave up the sport when he took up surf lifesaving but went back into motor sports at 26 and therein started competing on the race track.[20]

In order to drive, Christiansen integrates a hand control which are motorcycle-style twist throttle attached to a handle, in all his cars.[4][20][21][22] He names his midget race car "Toenails" and over the years have won several races locally at the Baypark Speedway[1][21] and domestically.[20][22] He also competed in the Pre-65 races in a Ford Zephyr Mark III[4][22][23] and made his sprint car debut at Western Springs in November 1996.[24]

Christiansen also participated in off-road races.[9][21][22] His race cars are usually a signature yellow colour.[20][21]

In 2015, Christiansen returned to circuit racing and joined the Star Touring Car series. His car has a Holden body and runs on a Suzuki GSXR engine. He won the 2016 series with the highest points in the Star Car category.[25]

Martial Arts[edit]

Tae Kwon Do.
Training with Master Kesi O'Neil and mastering the art of Tae Kwon Do.

Christiansen was introduced to martial arts in 1986 through one of his children who was taking Tae Kwon Do lessons[4] and he decided to aim for a black belt. He trained under Allan France and later under Master Kesi O’Neill after France moved to Australia.[1]

He obtained his Second Degree Black Belt in 1990 [9][26] and decided to move on to other things.

Pilot & Aviation History[edit]

Pilot Tony Christiansen flies the Cessna 172.
Christiansen flies the Cessna 172 at Tauranga Airport.

Christiansen’s introduction to aviation started with radio-controlled planes which remains a passionate hobby.[1] He had met and was taught to fly by Phil Hooker, the Bay of Plenty Flight Centre’s chief flying instructor[27][28] whom Christiansen taught to fly radio-controlled planes.[27][29]

Christiansen flies a Cessna 172[27][28] with a portable hand control to move rudders and apply the brakes.[29]

On 24 March 1998,[1] Christiansen created aviation history when he became the first disabled New Zealander to fly solo.[9][29] According to a Civil Aviation Authority spokeswoman, Christiansen was the first person who had learned to fly from scratch with a disability.[29]


Tony Christiansen climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.
Christiansen at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.

In 2002, Christiansen was invited by Korean Broadcasting System to scale Mount Kilimanjaro with 2 other Koreans – Soo Young, a blind young woman and Hong Bin, an experienced mountaineer who lost all his fingers to frostbite on a climbing expedition in Canada.[30]

After about 2 weeks of preparations and media interviews in Korea, the group departed for Dar es Salaam, Nairobi and travelled onwards to Arusha in northern Tanzania. They spent 3 days filming in a village with the Maasai people.

Christiansen climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in his mountain-climbing wheelchair as much as he could and the rest of the journey on his backside with only a pair of hi-tech, New Zealand-designed vinyl pants and a pair of gloves protecting him from the sharp volcanic rocks.[30]

The group reached the summit of the mountain on 21 December 2002. Christiansen reached Gilman’s Point, the second highest peak at 5,685 metres. He did not reach Uhuru, the highest peak at 5,895 metres as he admitted in his book that he could not physically go on through the incredibly steep and rough terrain at the summit. It was also snowing and raining and it was getting dark, all making it too dangerous to carry on.

It took Christiansen 10 hours to reach Gilman’s Point from Kibo Hut which is the last station on the Marangu Route, and only 2 hours to descent.

Christiansen’s Kilimanjaro experience is told in detail in his second book "Attitude Plus!".[31] He considers his climb to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro one of his proudest moment.[32]

World’s Fastest Amputee[edit]

Tony Christiansen attempts to be the World's Fastest Amputee at the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Christiansen at the Bonneville Salt Flats with his dragster.

In 2008, having watched the movie "The World's Fastest Indian" 27 times on Air New Zealand flights, Christiansen was inspired to become "The World’s Fastest Amputee".[33][34] He set a goal to attempt to reach 200 mph (321 km/h) on the famed Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, United States.[33]

He set about modifying his C/Altered drag racer designed for a quarter mile strip into a salt flats racer that will run 8 miles (13 km) on the vast salt flats.[33]

Christiansen's efforts were filmed by TV NZ for a documentary programme which captured the emotional highs and lows of his Speedweek venture. He did not achieve this targeted speed of 200 mph (320 km/h), instead topped at 182 mph (293 km/h).[35]

Snow Sports[edit]

In 2010 at Whakapapa skifield, Christiansen met American adaptive ski instructor Travis Thiele, who works with the National Ability Center in the United States and took his first lesson in adaptive skiing. Christiansen did not fall. Thiele described Christiansen as "strong as an ox" and admitted that he had never in his career met a first-time adaptive skier who did not fall on his first attempt.[36]

Through Thiele, Christiansen was introduced to members of the Paralympic Committee of the International Bobsleigh & Skeleton Federation (FIBT) who were campaigning to introduce a two-man adaptive bobsled competition as a demonstration sport at the 2014 Winter Paralympics in Sochi, Russia.[37] In January 2012, Christiansen participated in the first ever International Introduction and Development School for Adaptive Bobsled and Skeleton hosted by the United States Bobsled and Skeleton Federation and the Utah Olympic Park Track. He took the position and qualified as a bobsled driver.[37]

Christiansen is officially a member of FIBT representing New Zealand.[38]


Tony Christiansen riding the Otago Central Rail Trail.
Christiansen riding the Otago Central Rail Trail towing his wheelchair.

Christiansen rides his handcycles regularly as a form of exercise. In January 2015, he took part in the Round The Mountain Paracycling Challenge with 5 other handcyclist, riding the steep leg 4 of 6 legs. The challenge was a 150 km route around Mount Taranaki in New Plymouth.[39]

The following month, Christiansen attempted and successfully rode the entire length of the Otago Central Rail Trail.[40] He described the effort to be harder than he had expected as either his front steering wheel or both his back wheels were always grinding into the loose rocks. This resulted in him riding 8 to 11 hours a day. He started the ride in Clyde on 21 February and completed his feat in Middlemarch on 25 February 2015.


Christiansen was a candidate for the Bay of Plenty (New Zealand electorate) for the Kiwi Party in the 2008 General Election.[41] He did not win the seat, garnering 2,258 votes, losing to incumbent Tony Ryall.[42]

In 2010, Christiansen put his name forward for a seat in the Tauranga City Council local body elections.[43] He won and was the highest polling at-large candidate with 10,890 votes.[44][45][46][47] He was not re-elected in the 2013 elections.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Tony Christiansen with Liz Dobson. Race You To The Top. Harper Collins Publishers (New Zealand) Limited, 2007 ISBN 978-1-86950-358-1.
  2. ^ a b c Tony Christiansen with Liz McKeown. Attitude Plus! Harper Collins Publishers (New Zealand) Limited, 2009 ISBN 978-1-86950-470-0.
  3. ^ a b Sharon Course. Scaling the heights. Sunday News, Date needed
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Erena Hodgkinson. Now That I Have Your Attention. NZ Today, Magazine of the New Zealand Drivers Club Archived 12 June 2003 at the Wayback Machine. December/January 2003/04
  5. ^ Meg Davidson. Motivator stresses self-belief. (p. 11). Southland Times, 11 March 2001
  6. ^ Aaron Smale. Making The Most of Life. Manawatu Evening Standard, 19 June 2003
  7. ^ a b Accident victim shows tremendous pluck and stoicism. Bay of Plenty Times, 11 June 1967
  8. ^ Michael Hanrahan. No legs no bar to achievement. Ashburton's The Courier, 29 February 2000
  9. ^ a b c d e Jo McCaroll. Able to succeed. (p. D2). The Sunday Star-Times, 13 August 2000
  10. ^ Catherine Watson. Amputee meets life challenges head on. Rotorua Daily Post, 14 January 1988
  11. ^ Mayor is right in swim with $220. Bay of Plenty Times, 7 March 1971
  12. ^ Letter from the Chairman of the Auckland Harbour Board, Mr. R.W. Carr, 27 February 1974
  13. ^ a b c d e Legless lifesaver: He's Got Guts!. Sunday News, Date needed
  14. ^ a b Honoured For Prowess and Courage. New Zealand Herald, 25 February 1976
  15. ^ a b World award surprises surf lifesaver. Bay of Plenty Times, 3 November 1978
  16. ^ a b E.D. Kwok. Youngster Only Wheelchair From Winning. Bay of Plenty Times, 9 April 1977
  17. ^ a b Sandy McPhie. Daddy No Legs. That's Life (NZ), October 2000
  18. ^ Letter from the Editorial Department of the New Zealand Herald, 13 February 1972
  19. ^ Home with victory smiles. Bay of Plenty Times, 7 June 1975
  20. ^ a b c d Colin Smith. The Kiwifruit Coasters. (p. 2). Timescan, 16 December 1988
  21. ^ a b c d Louise Clifton. Amputee Tony Digs In His 'Toenails'. Publication name needed, Date needed
  22. ^ a b c d Donn White. Drivers race to get cars ready. Bay of Plenty Times, 28 September 1994
  23. ^ Pre-65 Racing New Zealand Archived 2 June 2010 at the Wayback Machine.
  24. ^ Colin Smith. Horsepower puts a smile on Tony's dial. (p. 12). Bay of Plenty Times, 22 November 1996
  25. ^ Winner - Star Touring Cars (Star Series Highest Points)
  26. ^ Certificate from the New Zealand Tae Kwon Do Federation. Signed by Jung Nam Lee - President
  27. ^ a b c Rosaleen Macbrayne. Sky no limit to amputee's soaring ambition. New Zealand Herald, Date needed
  28. ^ a b Aiming for the sky. New Zealand Aviation News, Date needed
  29. ^ a b c d Sue Hoffart. Flight puts amputee on record books. (p. 1). Bay of Plenty Times, 4 April 1998
  30. ^ a b Lindy Andrews. For Tony, it’s no legs, no worries. (p. 1 & 2). Bay of Plenty Times, 7 December 2002
  31. ^ Stu Oldham. Encouraging others to make the most out of life. (sup p. 3). Otago Daily Times, 15 November 2003
  32. ^ Tony's passionate about life. Christchurch Mail, 19 November 2003
  33. ^ a b c Colin Smith. Hard-charging amputee takes on Bonneville. Bay of Plenty Times, 2 April 2008
  34. ^ Colin Smith. Tony to give salt a shake. Bay of Plenty Times, 5 July 2008
  35. ^ Bonneville. Attitude TV NZ One
  36. ^ From Never Ever To The Top Of The Mountain In A Day. [1], March 2011
  37. ^ a b Colin Smith. Tony Christiansen focuses on bobsled. Bay of Plenty Times, 6 January 2012
  38. ^ FIBT Member - Tony Christiansen
  39. ^ Around The Mountain Paracycling Challenge
  40. ^ Shawn McAvinue. No legs, no obstacle for Kiwi cyclist. Otago Daily Times, 22 February 2015
  41. ^ Juliet Rowan. Kiwi Party candidate full of get up and go. New Zealand Herald, 19 September 2008
  42. ^ New Zealand general election, 2008
  43. ^ Tauranga City Council. And the nominess are... Bay of Plenty Times, 21 August 2010
  44. ^ Jamie Morton. Three fresh additions to Tauranga City Council. Bay of Plenty Times, 9 October 2010
  45. ^ OUR VIEW: Onus on new face to deliver in council. Bay of Plenty Times, 12 October 2010
  46. ^ Tauranga City Council 2010 Election Results
  47. ^ "Cr. Tony Christiansen",

External links[edit]