On Friday night, Tony Christiansen (56), of Tauranga, climbed from his wheelchair to 1.5m-high scaffolding in Dunedin Town Hall to speak to a sell-out crowd at the Otago Medical Research Foundation's fundraising dinner.

When he was 9 years old, he lost his legs after being run over by a train carriage near Mt Maunganui.

He was helping bag coal for a charity fundraiser and was fetching sacks when a wagon was shunted backwards and he was dragged under.

  Motivational speaker Tony Christiansen in Dunedin yesterday. Photo by Linda Robertson.

Motivational speaker Tony Christiansen in Dunedin yesterday. Photo by Linda Robertson.

People should not wait for something to go wrong to decide to make their life the best it could be, he said.

''So many people are just sitting around waiting - waiting for something to go wrong ... I'm fortunate, I know so many people that are far worse off than I am but then I know so many able-bodied people that are far more disabled than I'll ever be, just because of their attitudes.''

People needed to find inspiration, create challenges and be passionate, he said.

''I'm inspired by my grandchildren, I'm inspired by Burt Munro ... find the challenges ... believe in good things.''

The challenges he had accepted include climbing Mt Kilimanjaro in 2002, racing in a motor sport hillclimb in Queenstown in 2007 and reaching speeds of nearly 300kmh in a drag racer at the Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah, in 2008.

His next challenge was cycling the Otago Rail Trail with his wife June Keiw on his three-wheeled hand cycle.

He had been a motivational speaker for nearly 15 years after selling his signwriting company.

He became a speaker after attending a book launch at Aotea Centre where the guest speakers - broadcaster Paul Holmes and rugby coach John Hart - failed to show.

He agreed to fill in at the last-minute and climbed to the top of scaffolding on stage to speak.

''I did this 10-minute speech and I took the piss out of myself and other people, and their perceptions, and how they judge me. I got a standing ovation from the 800 people in the room.''

After the speech, people from professional speaking agencies asked if they could represent him.

Since that day he had spoken at up to 100 events a year and had upcoming speaking engagement in Melbourne, Fiji and Bangkok.

A memorable speaking engagement was at his grandson's school in Tauranga.

The pupils sat on the mat and gasped when he jumped from his wheelchair to the floor and then flipped up to sit on a school desk, he said.

''A kid came up and said 'Excuse me, you're not allowed to sit on the desks'. Those are the things I love,'' he said, laughing.

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