Our Members - Their Stories

MDANZ members share their personal stories of living with a Muscular Dystrophy condition. 

Accepting support from family and friends is key

08 June 2021

Paralympian, Tim Dempsey says living with Becker muscular dystrophy has taught him to focus on what he can do, not what he can’t.

Tim Dempsey pictured with sons Reuben, left, and Oliver, and his partner Keri.

Hello, my name is Tim Dempsey. I grew up in Rotorua and now live in Auckland.

I was diagnosed with Becker muscular dystrophy when I was 15 after having to pull out of the Milford Track walk on the first day.

I had been struggling with physical activities before then, so the diagnosis wasn’t a complete surprise.

However, I was in denial and quite upset for some time as a teenager facing life-altering news.

I was fortunate that I have had heaps of family and friend support.

One helpful contact early on was meeting an older man with Becker called Doug.

Eventually I accepted that my life  was not going to turn out quite how I had expected and continued for many years living in Rotorua running several businesses.

My first contact with MDANZ as a client was in the late 1980s. In 1997 I was the Rotorua Bow Tie coordinator and eventually took on the role of MDANZ funding manager, which brought me to Auckland.

Some of the initiatives I was involved with were the Bow-Tie annual fundraising appeal and the direct mail programme. The work was rewarding, and I met some great people – we had a lot of fun. Some of the memorable times were the Ferrari days and the MDANZ camps.

At an Outward Bound course in 2003, we were encouraged to set goals and one of mine was to represent New Zealand in the Paralympics.

Sailing has always been my sport and I spent a lot of time sailing on Lake Rotorua growing up.

In 2009 I started my campaign to qualify for the Paralympics. I was fortunate to compete in the 2012 London Paralympics, with Jan Apel in the SKUD 18 class coached by Rob Hielkema and supported by Steve Cranch.

This was one of the best experiences of my life.

These days, I run the Sailability Auckland organisation that encourages people with disabilities to experience the same freedom, adventure and fun that attracted me to sailing.

I still do fundraising and import boats as the Hansa agent.

I am now a fair-weather sailor and only occasionally compete.

My passion is getting other people involved in sailing.

One of the most inspiring things I’ve seen was Sean Stamp who had Duchenne MD sailing with his ventilator tied onto the back of the boat. Sadly Sean passed away a short while later. Many of our sailors have muscular dystrophy.

I feel so lucky to be a dad to Reuben, 13, and Oliver, 11, and to spend time with my partner Keri and hang out with our new labrador pup Skye. I feel privileged to have my family around me.

I try to be independent, but I am finding some daily personal tasks more challenging and time-consuming these days.

I am, however, determined to stay independent for as long as possible. I have had regular physio sessions with Claire Wihongi for the past eight years that focuses on stretches which helps me stay more flexible.

I have found it valuable to talk with people with the same condition. I am available for a chat and can be contacted through MDANZ.

The main message I have, coming up to 50 years of age and living with Becker, is to focus on what you can do, not what you can’t. I have also learnt to appreciate and accept the community and family support that is out there.


* This story was originally published in the Winter 2021 edition of In Touch  magazine. 

For more information please contact:         
Melanie Louden 
Communications and Marketing Advisor 
Muscular Dystrophy Association of New Zealand 
027 509 8774 
[email protected]