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Kaumatua Olympians bring back the goods

Nine contestants from Turanga Health last month took on the annual national Kaumatua Olympics in Hamilton — and won.

Turanga Health’s first-ever competing team of Henare Stirling, Pera Smiler, Francis Galloway, Mattie Ahu, Tomairangi Duncan, Louise Kemp, Mereana Andrews, Barbara Allison and Rawiri Haapu were named the national champions of the 15-year-old, semi-annual event.

“It’s because we cheated!” co-captain Francis (77) jokingly said.

What he was admitting to, however, was that with the team’s average age being a whisker under 70, they were one of the younger teams at the Olympics.

That’s because Turanga representatives had to be sure they were all well enough to make the trip to Hamilton but once they were deemed fit to attend, not one turned down the opportunity to take part.

“That’s what you do when someone asks you to do something,” Barbara, 69, said.

“You just say “yes” and do what you can.”

The Kaumatua Olympics involves activities like line-dancing, seated volleyball, kumara toss, wheelchair relays and crowd favourite Kumba, which is Zumba modified for kaumatua.

Pera, 70, said he was keen to give anything a go.

“To be honest, I had no idea what we were in for but I loved the whole experience, it was magic,” he said.

But team bus driver, Rawiri (66) — a three-year veteran of the Kaumatua Programme — said he absolutely went there to win, “we just happened to have a great experience at the same time”.

Established 21 years ago, Turanga Health’s Kaumatua Programme continues to serve about 300 koroua and kuia in helping them maintain health, independence and community connections through fortnightly gatherings that are usually held at marae.

Henare (67) said he’d never been one to really socialise, which is what prompted him to join the programme.

“Going away to compete was challenging but totally worth it, we had a whole lot of laughs.”

Mattie, (72), was also grateful for the opportunity to compete.

“Turanga Health always shows us the greatest of care . . . but who’d have thought we could have such an amazing experience”.

And 75-year-old Toimairangi said she wouldn’t have missed the event for the world, “We were all there as one, a big whanau”.

After a day of games and events where the team was pitted against nearly 300 other competitors, they brought home the carved wooden trophy.

And Turanga Health kaiawhina Louise Kemp (68), also a team member, said they were well cared for while they were away.

“There was a beautiful bridge between rangatahi and kaumatua,” she said.

“It’s like when your own mokopuna do well and make you proud,” co-captain Mereana Andrews added, about the Rototuna High School students who hosted this year’s Olympics. “From preparing the food to organising the events . . . they were incredible.”

Back in Gisborne, the victors were guests of honour at a presentation event where more than 150 pakeke were at Lawson Field Theatre in support.

As a bonus, there was a screening of historic footage – dating as far back as 1919 – from the New Zealand Film Archive.

“This is not the first time we’ve done this and it really means a lot,” Kaumatua Programme co-ordinator Kay Robin said.

“For some of our whanau the footage brings back memories, for others it’s a chance to see images they have never seen before.”

Team Turanga Health say they are looking forward to defending their trophy at next year’s Kaumatua Olympics.

“It would be nice to give some of our other whanau a chance to compete,” Francis said, “but if they call us, we will come running!”

KAUMATUA OLYMPICS CHAMPIONS: Kaumatua Olympics champions (from left) Henare Stirling, Pera Smiler, Francis Galloway, Mattie Ahu, Toimairangi Duncan, Louise Kemp, Mereana Andrews, Barbara Allison and Rawiri Haapu stand proudly with their carved trophy after taking out the competition on their first-ever entry into the event. Picture by Rebecca Grunwell