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Pushing through to succeed

Hard work, a drive for success, fearless ambition and humility. The Gisborne Herald’s Shaan Te Kani meets a young woman who is an example to her peers by embodying all of the above . . .

New Zealand’s great adventurer Sir Edmund Hillary once said: “You don’t have to be a fantastic hero to do certain things, to compete. You can be just an ordinary chap, sufficiently motivated to reach challenging goals.”

Hillary’s words relate well to 18-year-old Keri Mankelow-Ngatoro.

The Gisborne teenager, of Ngati Ruawaiapu (Te Araroa) and Waikato/Tainui whakapapa, definitely has the motivation, but more importantly, has the work ethic to strive for whatever she aspires to.

The former Lytton High School prefect is a 2018 recipient of the Sir Edmund Hillary Scholarship, which educates future leaders at the University of Waikato within the values of one of the nation’s great heroes — inspiring excellence, all round development and leadership.

Sir Edmund Hillary scholars must excel in academia, leadership and sports, or creative and performing arts.

Various professional development opportunities and fees support are provided for scholars.

Keri was awarded the scholarship for her sport of waka ama, alongside her academic and leadership achievements.

Her paddling career began at the age of 12 under the tutelage of Matahi Brightwell and the Mareikura Waka Ama Club.

Keri acknowledges her former club and coach for planting the seed, sharing their knowledge, and helping to develop her passion for the sport.

She is an international athlete, and was a member of the New Zealand Development Women’s team that competed at the waka ama worlds event in Tahiti last year.

Keri has also achieved success at national competitons with her club Horouta Waka Hoe, as well as competing at the national secondary school competitions for Lytton High School.

In her academic profile, she achieved highly in NCEA (National Certificate of Educational Achievement), which was a a pre-requisite for Hillary scholars.

Her leadership and community portfolio includes being a current member of the Gisborne District Youth Council, a representative for the East Coast Kiwi Sport funding body, Lytton High prefect for 2018 and Board of Trustees student representative.

In between all of that — her trainings and competition, school work and community commitments — Keri also works in the evenings, usually straight after waka ama training, at the Riverdale Fish and Chip Shop.

“From a young age, my mum pushed me to work hard,” says Keri.

“I’ve had to do a lot of things by myself, which has helped me to be independent.”

Keri says she had a humble upbringing in Te Karaka, raised by the example of hardworking parents — Natasha Mankelow and Aaron Ngatoro.

But Keri says her humble roots are an advantage.

“It’s been a big driver, having to work twice as hard to make it.

“My mum and dad work hard in the bush. They’re up early, and I get up for trainings at 5am. They have been a huge example to me.

“I love making my parents and my family proud.”

This has also encouraged Keri’s capacity to dream big, much like Hillary.

Her future goal is to one day become Prime Minister of New Zealand.

“I was six years old when I first said that at Te Karaka Primary,” she laughs.

“I still have certificates from intermediate, where my teachers have mentioned it.

“It has always been a big goal, even to at least make it into parliament.

“Just growing up around hardship, it made me want to do something to change it. Poverty and unemployment are two kaupapa that I am most passionate about.

“When I go to university I want to study political science and economics, and definitely work towards a political career.

“I also want to meet Jacinda Ardern one day. She has made it seem possible for anyone, especially women. But I admire her because she seems to be a person that is for everyone in New Zealand.”

In achieving academic success at school, Keri said she was fortunate to have the mentorship of teacher Deborah McClutchie.

“She really pushed me throughout my schooling. She’d make me commit to my work.

“She would also bake cakes for my fundraising efforts for waka ama.

“She done more than her job as a learning advisor — she’s just a really good lady.”

The dedication of working towards her goals continues into 2019.

Keri has decided to take a gap year to work, and is currently looking for employment in Gisborne.

“While the fees-free option is available for first-year school-leavers, and the scholarship is there to help with my accommodation costs, I want to work and save this year, before I go away.

“I’d like to buy my own one-man waka, which is expensive. One of the criteria for the programme is that I continue with my sport. So I need to work hard to get that.

“The programme agreed that I could defer the scholarship for 2020, which I am really grateful for.”

Just like Hillary, Keri has her own wise words to share.

“Don’t let your circumstances define you. That’s a quote I’ve stuck with throughout the last couple of years.

“I’ve had to make a lot of sacrifices to get to where I am today.

“And that’s what I think about when I’m on the water. I think about the sacrifices, not only of what I’ve made, but what everyone has made.

“I love the feeling of being on the water. The thrill of it. Just being able to push yourself, physically and mentally.

“Waka ama is a demanding sport, but it encourages a good work ethic, focus and determination.

“A lot of thanks must go to my club and my coach Kiwi Campbell. Waka ama has contributed so much to other achievements in my life.

“But I’m not the only one. A lot of my best friends have come from this sport and they all do well in school too. It’s the discipline,” she says.

“If you don’t turn up to training, how are you supposed to turn up for school. And the trainings are tough, but that’s part of it.

“Just knowing that it all pays off in the end is the greatest feeling.

“You learn and develop life long skills from wakas and it can take you to the world, even to gaining a Sir Edmund Hillary scholarship.”

DREAM BIG, WORK HARD: Future leader Keri Mankelow-Ngatoro lives by these words . . . and it’s paying off. Picture by Rebecca Grunwell.