Aroha’s story: Grandmother takes on IronMāori triathlon

A grandmother of 17, Aroha Te Wao is finding time in her busy life to take on IronMāori – an ACC-supported multi-sport event aimed at promoting wellbeing among whānau.

Despite never having tackled a triathlon before, Aroha Te Wao didn’t hesitate when her friends asked her to sign up for IronMāori.

Aroha (Parawera Marae) will line up alongside 3,000 other athletes taking part in the ACC Quarter and Half IronMāori events in Napier this Saturday.

“I love a challenge,” says the 52-year-old kuia (grandmother) of 17 mokopuna (grandchildren).

“The wairua (spirit) for myself is that I like to be an example for my moko. My grandchildren are my pride and joy. It’s just about being a good role model, being tuakana (elder) to all.”

Aroha is taking on the Quarter IronMāori distance, in which she will swim 1km, cycle 45km and run or walk 10.5km.

Not surprisingly, it’s been a challenge for Aroha to fit in the training.

She works at the Laminex Factory in Kirikiriroa (Hamilton) and the shift work makes her week a juggling act. Aroha plans her training around her 12-hour workdays, depending on whether it’s a day or night shift.

“On my night shifts, I do Tabata on Mondays, HIIT (high-intensity interval training) classes on Wednesdays and Box Fit on Fridays. And then on my day shifts I go to the gym at 3.30am before I start work at 5am.”

Tabata is another form of high-intensity training, similar to HIIT.

Some of Aroha’s mokopuna are getting a front row seat to their grandma’s commitment and dedication. She and her partner Lewis are raising four of her grandchildren.   

“I love pushing myself and taking on IronMāori is a good chance for me to show my whānau that you can keep active and keep achieving things no matter your age,” she says.

A portrait photo of Aroha Te Wao smiling.

A journey of self-discovery

This year is the 15th Anniversary of IronMāori and ACC is proud to be contributing to the manaakitanga (hospitality), aroha (love) and whanaungatanga (connections) of the event.

Aroha, who lives in Kirikiriroa, is not only a positive role model for her mokopuna, but also her wider whānau.

“She’s been on a long journey of self-discovery in wanting more personally, and she’s got the support behind her,” says sister Roimata. 

“It’s inspiring watching all Māori attend and they are all different ages. I’ve seen my sister’s journey from years ago when she wasn’t so active to how she is now – she’s just so fit.”

And Aroha feels more than ready. This is the second year she’s trained to compete in IronMāori, as she had initially intended to take part in 2022.

“Leading up to it, I was fit as and keen as. Then I had an accident at netball,” she explains.

“I was gutted to miss the event after all of the hard work and training – but this time I’ll be ready.”

I pushed myself and carried on right to the end of the game with the injury. I knew I shouldn’t have.
- Grandmother and IronMāori participant Aroha Te Wao

Aroha Te Wao working out on an exercise bike.

Untimely injury knocks IronMāori dream

Aroha is a devoted sportsperson. Lewis is the chairperson of their sports club Ruffnex and Aroha is involved in a number of sports teams, including touch rugby, basketball and volleyball.

In the final few weeks in the lead-up to last year’s IronMāori, she played netball and an opponent accidentally stood on her ankle which sent Aroha onto her back and in pain. 

It was a final for the local competition, so she shrugged it off and kept playing.

“I pushed myself and carried on right to the end of the game. I knew I shouldn’t have, but I did,” she says.

The injury didn’t just affect her entry into IronMāori. She couldn’t work for a time and had to stop playing all sports for six months.

This netball season, she was not going to have a repeat if she could help it. So she became more aware of her surroundings when playing.

“When I feel I’ve got an opposition player that kind of doesn’t know how to play, I keep away from those ones,” she says with a laugh.

Aroha Te Wao stretching before working out.

‘The more I move, the better I feel’

Aroha has also been incorporating training to help strengthen her injured back while preparing for IronMāori.

“I do a lot of Tabata, cardio and weightlifting,” she says.

Exercise is important to her and she says, ‘the more I do it the more well I feel’. But that wasn’t always the case.

As a solo mum raising four children, playing sport and exercising were not always possible as she had other priorities. 

“I was focused on just providing for my tamariki (children) and had no time for sports or exercise,” she says.

But she doesn’t have to do it alone anymore. With the help of Lewis, Aroha has support to put her hauora (wellbeing) first. She encourages other Māori to do the same.

An aerial photo of the IronMāori finish line, showing competitors and spectators on the beach.

From humble beginnings to large event

Founded by Heather and Wayne Skipworth in 2009, IronMāori was established to tackle growing issues of ill health amongst Māori and is open to all people.

From 300 participants in the inaugural event, it has become the largest half and quarter ironman-style event in Aotearoa. It builds on its vision to promote wellbeing from kaumātua to mokopuna and have healthy and vibrant whānau participating in all aspects of life.

“Ask any of our IronMāori whānau and they’ll all tell you whanaungatanga (relationships or connections) are the most important part of this kaupapa,” Heather says.

“For us in IronMāori, it’s no different to those of whom we partner with. These relationships also require nurturing. We’re proud to have partnered with ACC, providing a pathway to our whānau, allowing the opportunity for ACC to also build genuine relationships with the IronMāori whānau.”

We believe in the kaupapa of IronMāori and we want to tautoko (support) whānau to live well.
- Tane Cassidy - ACC Deputy Chief Executive of Prevention and Partnerships

Aligning with ACC strategy

IronMāori’s vision of promoting health, wellbeing and longevity from mokopuna through to kaumātua aligns with the new ACC ten-year strategy, Huakina Te Rā.

This strategy is the command that opens the sails, and the vision is ‘Tonui ake nei’ – a thriving Aotearoa.

ACC is focused on ensuring Māori are aware of all the support they’re entitled to following an injury.

“We believe in the kaupapa of IronMāori and we want to tautoko (support) whānau to live well,” says Tane Cassidy, the ACC Deputy Chief Executive of Prevention and Partnerships.  

“If you’ve had an accident and have an injury, no matter how big, don’t tough it out – taihoa ake and get help. ACC is here for you and your whānau to help you recover and get you back doing what you love.” 

Don’t tough it out

IronMāori competitors run along the beach in their wetsuits.

IronMāori events in Napier 

  • IronMāori Tamariki and Rangatahi – Friday 3 November
  • IronMāori Kaumatua – Friday 3 November
  • ACC IronMāori Quarter and Half – Saturday 4 November

For more information go to the IronMāori website.