Could the power of community turn you into a triathlete?

Mā te whakamanawa o te hapori e tū kaiaka ai koe?
13 January 2020
4 minute read

That’s what a whānau fitness group based in Wellington is achieving. It’s full of support and encouraging people on their hauora journey.

Six months before he finished his first triathlon, Ruka Rarere couldn't even swim.

"I was in Rarotonga with my kids and they asked me to jump in the swimming pool, and as embarrassing as it was, I couldn't jump in with them. I decided to face up to it and booked in to do a triathlon."

Ruka successfully completed the solo quarter IronMāori in November.

He says, "It was quite a big achievement considering six months ago I couldn't actually swim."

He achieved this goal with help from a community fitness group based in Kilbirnie, Wellington.

"Four years ago, when I first started coming here, I couldn't even run around the block. I was in quite a bad way, fitness-wise, and I knew I had to do something."

"Coming here seemed to be the right choice – it's community-based and very inclusive. It's changed my life completely."

Members of the fitness group do sideways planks


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Family and community together

Co-founder of the fitness group, Vanessa Broughton says when they started the group 10 years ago, they were trying to encourage more Māori and Pasifika people to get active.

"When we started, we looked at what the barriers were and we thought, let's try and overcome them."

Cost and finding someone to look after the kids were the biggest factors for not exercising. They tried to keep it simple, affordable, and tailored the groups to whānau fitness.

"If you can get kids exercising with their families and having fun, and starting from a young age, it normalises exercise," says Vanessa.

Their session on Friday nights are for the whole whānau to come along and exercise together. There are several families that attend and bring the kids – Ruka's family is one of them.

His story is a great example of what the fitness group encourages – stepping out of their comfort zone and trying something new, such as IronMāori.

Vanessa and quite a few of the group's members have been involved with IronMāori for many years. She says it's a fantastic event which involves the whole family.

"It's an amazing achievement for people and it's for everyone. You see people achieving things they didn't think they could achieve."

An event such as IronMāori is a great event to work towards when starting a fitness journey, Vanessa says.

"It's just about starting and having a goal at the end. Having that goal motivates you to get out of bed in the morning."

Image of Fred Lefaoseu

Right, said Fred

It's not just Ruka who has overcome obstacles. Fred Lefaoseu has been going to the fitness group for 10 years now, but seven years ago, he suffered a heart attack.

He initially started attending the group to stay fit and add more exercise to his routine.

"It has a community feel about it and exercising with your mates was certainly a better incentive that exercising on my own."

Even though Fred had already started his exercise journey, his heart attack was a wake-up call.

"At the time I thought I was fit. I was quite active. I thought I was healthy.

"When I had the heart attack, I was sitting in my hospital bed, and recognised that inside I wasn't looking after myself. Seeing my kid's faces just really hit home."

After that Fred changed up his routine, encouraging all his friends and neighbours to join. They still exercise together, with families attending the fitness group too.

"They don't see an exercise group, they see a group of people willing to support each other," he says.

"There's no pressure to join. There's no pressure to perform. You do what you can. And there's a lot of support."

Take that first step and walk in the door, whether it’s a gym, a community-based exercise, or walking on a Sunday morning with your friend – just get out and give it a go. You’ve got nothing to lose.
- Vanessa Broughton

Hauora lifestyle is key

Since Fred's heart attack, Vanessa has started specific men's and women's health groups that give specialist advice in areas such as nutrition.

"It was a wake-up call for a lot of men in that age group that living a healthier lifestyle was really important," Vanessa says.

At the fitness groups, they try to encourage people to have mental wellness, as well as physical. They've tried to create a whānau-based atmosphere to provide support and enjoy exercise, so people stay with it.

"There's something for everyone. One of the reasons we started here is because we wanted a community base, somewhere people felt comfortable to exercise," she says.

"Everyone has different obstacles but connecting with like-minded people encouraging you to live a healthier, hauora lifestyle is key."

Hauora is the Māori philosophy that looks at the whole person, and how whānau, mental health, physical health, and spiritual health all form part of a person's wellbeing.

"I think hauora is extremely important for everyone – it all comes together in one package to create that wellbeing for people."

Vanessa says they all interact and have an affect on your life. She encourages everyone to give exercise a go, whatever it is.

"Take that first step and walk in the door, whether it's a gym, a community-based exercise, or walking on a Sunday morning with your friend – just get out and give it a go. You've got nothing to lose."

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