Our Members - Their Stories

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

Rolling through 2021

17 June 2021
Melanie Louden

Alisha is living her best life on and off the boccia court

FSHD isn’t slowing Alisha Mill down. After a successful 2020 year playing boccia she has high hopes for what this year will hold. 
By Melanie Louden. 

Alisha Mill hopes boccia will lead her to the international stage and the Paralympics. Photo: www.jjohnstone.photography

Alisha Mill is a typical teenager.

She loves to sketch, especially architectural drawings; she likes to cook meals for her family; she’s a keen photographer and she doesn’t shy away from adventure.

The 17-year-old lives with her mum, Melissa, dad, Matt, and her older sister Skyla in Christchurch. They have a “farmyard” of family pets.

She loves singer Lewis Capaldi and Kiwi bands L.A.B and Six60.

She is also one of New Zealand’s top boccia players and has held the number one ranking for her classification for the last two years.

Boccia is similar to petanque and bowls – players try and get their ball as close as possible to the jack. It’s played sitting down and is an inclusive sport for young and old and people with varying abilities.

Last year at the national competition Alisha came away with a bronze medal in the teams’ event, her first gold in the individual competition and she was awarded the Boccia NZ Junior Player of the Year award.

She was also the first para-athlete to win the Bernie Walker Award from the Canterbury Sports Foundation, and at the 2020 Parafed awards dinner she became the first boccia player to receive the Parafed Junior Sports Person of the Year title.

Alisha was diagnosed with facioscapulohumeral dystrophy (FSHD) at the age of seven.

But the diagnosis came after many hospital and specialist visits with no real results and a misdiagnosis of moebius syndrome.

The correct diagnosis came about after Alisha’s mum Melissa saw an episode of The Ophra Winfrey Show featuring a girl that couldn’t smile.

“Everything this girl had was similar to me. After my mum spent many hours on the internet researching, she showed my specialist and they looked it up and said ‘you’ve hit the nail on the head’.”

FSHD typically affects the face, shoulder blades and upper arms. But in Alisha’s case it “affects my body all over from head to toe”.

“Medically, there is no cure, which can be hard. But it does not stop me, and it does not mean that there will never be one.”

Alisha is currently part of a drug trial in Australia, which she will be finishing in New Zealand due to Covid-19.

“I do not let it get in the way of me living my best life.

"Some things may take me longer to do than an ‘abled’ person – I may have to do it differently.

“Yes, I have a disability, but I do not let this stop me breaking boundaries.”

She’s done everything from adaptive white water rafting to camping, skydiving and ziplining.

Her boccia career began about five years ago after she went to an open day put on by Parafed Canterbury.

“I was playing this guy from the club and I won and they were like ‘woah she’s really good!’ They invited me to a club training, and I’ve never left.”

Alisha trains four times a week – three private trainings and one with the club, and says she likes competing in a sport where everyone is on an equal playing field.

“Boccia means a lot to me. It has opened a world of opportunities. Boccia allows me to exercise both physically and mentally – it’s all about thinking strategically.

“My goals are to get on the international stage and one day play at the Paralympics.”

She says balancing school and boccia can be quite challenging, but she’s grateful for the “full support” she has from her school and her boccia club.

2021 is a busy year of competitions. In April she competed in the Halberg Games, followed by the North Island, South Island and National championships.

There’s also the Secondary Schools Boccia Tournament and her club tournaments.

Alisha says support for her love of boccia has come from Boccia New Zealand and ParaFed Canterbury, as well as the Muscular Dystrophy Association of New Zealand’s Bradley Jenkin Memorial Fund.

“The money I received from the fund went towards new boccia balls. The funding has also helped me to hire courts for private trainings.”

Her new balls arrived two weeks before the 2020 National Boccia Championships.

“This didn’t allow me to have much time to train with them and get used to how they roll. But this did not stop me from getting good outcomes.

“I’d like to thank the Bradley Jenkin Memorial Fund for its support to help me reach my 2020 boccia goals. I can’t wait to see what 2021 has on offer for me.”


This article 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]