It seems as though no matter what Tony Christiansen turns his hands to, he rises to near the top. 

He holds a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, is a New Zealand motor racing champion in pre '65 and sprint classes, is a qualified pilot and one of the country's top public speakers. 

All this in spite of the fact he lost both legs when he was run over by a train as a nine-year-old. 

Tony was in Ashburton on Thursday to address the first session of his year's Leadership Academy. 

He became involved in public speaking about two years ago. As the owner of a successful signwriting business in Tauranga, he featured in one section of a book about successful people in New Zealand business. Tony was invited to the launch of the book in Auckland, and when the speaker for the event failed to turn up, he was asked to fill in. 

There were some trestles behind a curtain in the hall. He had them brought out, dragged himself up on them and addressed an audience of 800. He has no sooner finished than he was approached by agents from two companies asking him to speak to other groups. 

He developed an enthusiasm for speaking that led to the sale of the signwriting business and full time work on the speaking circuit in New Zealand and overseas. 

Tony says New Zealanders are often happy to settle for something not quite as good as they would like. 

By telling his life story he tries to show that they should not accept that attitude. Everyone has opportunities, he says, and they should never let them go by. 

The Australian culture instills in people a belief in themselves, especially in sport, and business is a game just as sport is. 

The New Zealand culture is often to throw money at a problem to fix it. Instead, it is not what happens, it is what you do that makes the difference. The attitude people create is what makes them better themselves. 

Tony says his mother calls his attitude arrogant - he calls it a dogged determination to succeed. 

It is annoying to see people with the potential to succeed and not using it, he says. The challenge to everyone is to believe in themselves and their potential. 

"Everyone can be a Bill Gates if the opportunity comes along - the trick is to recognise it," Tony said. 

Motivation came from the heart, he said. He could not motivate people, but he could inspire them. Motivation was up to the individual. 

The first academy session went really well, Enterprise Agency Manager Gerard Gallagher said. It was really special - you could hear a pin drop through the whole session. It was different as Tony had got straight into his message from the start. 

People had stayed around afterwards speaking to Tony.