Tony Christiansen has no legs, but he once climbed Africa's Mount Kilimanjaro.

The Tauranga businessman, whose mantra includes that you "never get a second chance to make a first impression", was a guest speaker at yesterday's Business Breakfast Club meeting of Nelson business leaders and young professionals.

 RISK TAKER: World-leading motivational and inspirational speaker Tony Christiansen during his presentation to the Business Breakfast Club at Petite Fleur at Seifried Estate. Photo: MARION VAN DIJK/FAIRFAX NZ

RISK TAKER: World-leading motivational and inspirational speaker Tony Christiansen during his presentation to the Business Breakfast Club at Petite Fleur at Seifried Estate. Photo: MARION VAN DIJK/FAIRFAX NZ

The club headed by Nelson business consultant Wayne Densem was formed seven months ago to provide networking opportunities, to further members' business knowledge and to support charity.

Yesterday's event raised $3000 for the Nelson Marlborough Rescue Helicopter Trust.

Mr Christiansen has just returned to New Zealand from speaking engagements in the United States. The double amputee who at age nine lost his legs in a rail accident has become a sought-after motivational speaker, believing that if he can share his story so people learn from it, then his job in life is done.

He had the audience enthralled from the moment he levered himself out of this wheelchair and on to a trestle way above his head, joking as he went that he almost "lost his footing".

Mr Christiansen said every single person had a story to tell, but his started when he was run over by a train.

"I still remember it like it was yesterday," he said.

Despite his mother's advice he and a friend wanted to help bag coal at the railway yard. Fate intervened when two four-ton wagons were shunted backwards at the moment he stepped across the track. He was dragged beneath the wagons and almost fatally injured.

"I remember going in the ambulance to Tauranga Hospital, then waking six weeks later with this terrible itch on my foot but when I went to scratch it my legs weren't there."

Mr Christiansen's success as a top New Zealand Paralympian was seeded when he learned to swim.

"They picked me up, threw me in and I sank to the bottom, and they scooped me out with a big net."

By the age of 10 he could swim a mile. That sparked an interest in lifesaving which led to his part in the rescue once of a teenage girl who was with a group of swimmers caught in a rip.

"I reached her, put a rescue tube around her and swam her back to shore. She probably had this image of me being a 6ft 2in bronzed lifeguard."

Mr Christiansen said he was dragging the girl up the sand, when she realised what was going on and fainted when she saw him.

"I know many disabled and even able-bodied people worse off than me, because of their attitudes to their lives, but these attitudes are habits of thought.

"They are unenthusiastic with a lack of desire and that's reflected in their attitude."

He said the meaning of success was different to everyone but successful people were goal-setters.

"It's like driving a car, if you don't steer it you end up being somewhere you don't want to be."

Mr Christiansen had also learned to never take no for an answer.

"The average 17 year-old in New Zealand has heard the word ‘no' or ‘can't' 148,000 times.

"When I was young I spent a lot of time at home, doing graphic art and drawing cartoons. I decided I wanted to be a sign-writer. I went around all the companies in Tauranga, they looked at me and said, ‘you have no legs, you can't drive or climb trestles', but I pestered one guy long enough that he gave me a go."

Mr Christiansen, who has a wife and children, said people's perceptions were the biggest challenge in a world where people judged others.

"People see me in the [wheel] chair and shout at me like I'm deaf."

Motorsport is another great passion and it had become a metaphor for life.

"If I follow the person in front I finish second. Leaders are those who take risks.

"Sometimes I crash and sometimes I win too. It's not about what happens to you but what you do about it."

Mr Christiansen said his life was a lot of fun and he lived by the adage that "we're here for a good time, not a long time".

He is building a car to race on the Bonneville salt flats in Utah next year, and is aiming for the bobsled event at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Seoul. "It's not an Olympic sport yet, but by then I reckon it will be."

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