Neither of my parents are from Holland but I was born there while they were on their OE. My mum was a nurse and my Dad is a dog trainer, they were always very adventurous. We moved back to Hawke’s Bay where I grew up before moving to Auckland and starting at Ponsonby Intermediate.
I have cerebral palsy which people assume makes my life really tough, but it just doesn’t.
I was born with this, so it’s just who I am.
As I got older I started to see people getting bigger, stronger and faster which is the point where I started to feel a little different. I had a tough time as a thirteen year old. There was a bit of exclusion, but on reflection, what made it really tough was my own attitude towards it. I believed that I couldn’t do stuff, so that’s what I felt.
Around that time, my mum decided to write a letter to the one person that made me smile, Jeremy Wells – ‘Newsboy’ from the Havoc TV show. I don’t know what she said to him, but he wrote a full two page letter back to me and at the end of it he said, ‘difference is a good thing,’ and that always stayed with me.
Sport was always quite a big thing growing up in New Zealand and if you were good at sport it was perceived as a level of success. I was always ambitious and wanting to achieve mainstream success, so before I was a speaker, I was an athlete. I was competing in the 100 and 200 metres and aiming towards getting into the Paralympics and that’s how the speaking began. I had sponsors who were asking me to give talks and I would always turn them down because public speaking was my number one fear. Once it got to a point where I was being asked so often, I thought maybe I was missing out on a good opportunity. I realised that if I practiced and put time into creating my content then that would be one less thing to feel uncomfortable about. So I did it and soon realised that there was potential in focusing on making a difference in my community.
Everyone I knew in my life was because of sport. I’d told all of these people that I wasn’t going to stop until I was the fastest person in the world with a gold medal, but suddenly I didn’t want to be an athlete anymore. I became worried that if I stopped I would be seen as a quitter so I talked to a mentor of mine about wanting to focus on speaking and setting up a mentoring programme. He said – ‘people support you for who you are, not what you do.’ For me, those words were really important. If I hadn’t been doing athletics I wouldn’t have gotten to the point where I wanted to be a speaker. I’m all about having big dreams and achieving more, but having a big dream doesn’t mean that is what you have to do for the rest of your life, but what it will do is lead you to other opportunities.
For me, I want to live a life where I can travel and connect with people, so growing up has been about looking for those opportunities. I had this dream of being a speaker but no one in New Zealand knew who I was. I would ring up people and ask them if they wanted me to come and speak at their events and one by one they would say no and hang up the phone. I would be stoked if I got one speech a month. So I decided that I had to find my Everest – something to conquer. So I went off to New York and did some speaking over there and how that all came about was through me having a dream. If you have a dream and you believe in it then it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of it.
I’ve always been inspired by those people who have turned their dreams into a reality, because I know how challenging it is. You hear stories and realise that nobody just lands who they are, there’s hard graft behind it. The more we learn about these hard times we realise that it is all just a part of the journey. So the fact that someone has been able to get through that and achieve their goal of becoming a fast runner, a racing car driver, a painter or whatever they may be, is inspiring. It comes back to that idea of being who we are and getting as comfortable as we can with what’s within us and then giving that out to the world. If you can conquer the mind and conquer the body, then you can conquer the world.
A dream doesn’t need to be as big as climbing a mountain or setting up a business. It could be as simple as waking up in the morning and deciding that you’re going to smile and say hello to everyone you walk past today. My proudest achievement is really just doing what I’m doing now because it fulfils everything that I dreamt about and also challenged me to overcome what I perceived as my biggest challenge. I’ve learnt not to be afraid of doing the things that we find really scary. I find that we often confuse this feeling of nervousness with excitement, which can stop us from doing something we really want to. I still get nervous before giving a speech, but as soon as I begin, I’m filled with excitement.
A big part of inspiration is perspective and having something that influences our perspective. It is stories that make us feel empowered to reach a goal and lead towards excellence. People often call me a ‘motivational speaker,’ but to me there is a big difference between motivation and inspiration. Motivation is what comes from within, it’s a movement. If you want to achieve that, you have to do it, I can’t do the movement for you. But I can plant the seed and build an experience that allows you to look at it from your perspective. That’s why passing on stories is so powerful.
Giving a speech is a performance. I often tell people that I’m inspired by musicians because they can tell a story in three to four minutes then put on a concert and connect with their audience through multiple forms of communication. So for me as a speaker, I look at my stories as my songs and the speech as my concert. A musician wants you to remember their songs and for the audience to sing along, now it would be weird if my audience spoke along with me, but that’s the kind of impact that I want to have.
While it’s great having all of this technology, we’re losing the ability to communicate face-to-face, which is a skill the generations before us mastered. People are scared to openly talk about the fact that we have increasing rates of obesity and depression in our country, but we need to be discussing things like that with one another.
I always enjoyed finding people who were doing what I wanted to do and contacting them and learning about their experiences, so when people come to me now and say, ‘What you’re doing is awesome, I want to do that,’ I always take the time to talk with them, it’s like giving back. When you give back you also get inspired too. Quite often it makes us think about stuff that we’ve never thought of, or haven’t for a long time. We often forget what it was like when we were getting started, so mentoring for me is mutually beneficial.
It makes me incredibly proud when someone comes up to me at the end of a speech and says, ‘Hey Cam, I want to be an All Black and I believe I can.’ Once when I was in New York a 75 year old lady came up to me and said, ‘You’ve inspired me that I can still dream big.’