Strategy and competition at Olympics 

Ratu Waru is a keen competitor who travelled from Turangi to join 500 other participants at the 12th annual Rauawaawa Kaumātua Olympics in Hamilton.

It was his second year as a member of the Tūwharetoa Turangi team and he plans to return for the next event.

Tuwharetoa second place

“It really is a fantastic show. The social, the physical; everything is here for a kaumātua.

“We got second place! To get second place, that is a very big achievement.”

There were 28 teams tackling a variety of games, including hockey, golf, Minefield, Zumba, and memory games.

Ratu, who was very energetic, says more seniors should participate.

“A lot of our old people, they’re couch people and they have not seen this sort of thing [the Olympics] happen.

“I may have to go back and talk to the kaumātua from Tūwharetoa about how to get these people involved.”

Ratu Waru and members of the Tūwharetoa Turangi team celebrate coming second

Victory of participation

One of the organisers, Hoki Purcell, (below, taking part in Zumba) has been involved with the Olympics from the start.

She can’t recall how many times her team has been victorious but that doesn’t matter.

“For me, for Rauawaawa, everyone is victorious, whether we win or lose.

It’s about the victory of participation.

“Looking at the growth of the people, physically, mentally, and spiritually - those who have been here for a long time and those who are new and what they are accomplishing themselves.”

Hoki doing Zumba

She says the Olympics works on many levels.

“I believe with Maori and with anything we participate in, it’s like Te Whare Tapa Whā, the four corners of the house, every path is touched. I just feel that this [event] fulfils it."

Age and ability does not restrict how competitive participants are and teams employ a variety of tactics to win.

“It’s hilarious. You watch it… the old people cheat. They’re very competitive,” says Hoki .

Having an age-related impairment, such as arthritis, means competitors need to adapt their technique.

“They’re using their brains to win,” she says.

Reuben tosses hoop

Hoki is also urging other kaumātua to take part.

“Come and lend your wairua (spirit) to mine. Let’s meet together."

“I believe that’s the essence of being kaumātua - it’s face to face, mouth to ear, and saying, ‘Haere mai’ - bring your spirit and my spirit and see what we can make of the day."

“It’s positive because what you are really saying to that person is you’re valuable, I need your wairua, we need your wairua, come join us!" And they do.

“It’s being able to make a person feel valuable.“

Involving as many people as possible is part of the concept behind the Olympics.

“When you’re older and you’re lonely, and you meet somebody who says, ‘Hey, you’re so valuable that we need you’, that person immediately, I think, puts positive energies into others and they automatically become energised,” says Hoki.

“That’s my experience - if you’re positive and you share your positivity, it’s all good.”

Reuben (above right) concentrating while throwing hoops

Student volunteers

That philosophy has kept volunteers, many of them Waikato University students, helping out year after year.

Pita Shelford (Te Rarawa, Ngāpuhi) and Truely Harding (Ngātiwai, Ngāpuhi) co-ordinated 80 volunteers, who ran the games, kept scores and made sure the competitors were supported.

Lee Orchard, Pita Shelford, Mary Simpson, Truely Harding, Cliff Matenga and Rangimahora Reddy.

Pita volunteered for the Olympics as part of an assignment for a first year paper at Waikato University in 2012, and has returned every year since.

“Loved it. I just like the kaupapa - what the event was about, bringing elderly together, and the intergenerational interaction between young and old. It was just awesome."

“It gave you a different perspective on the elderly, seeing them in an environment like that, as opposed to seeing them at home."

“If you volunteer once, then you’ll probably want to do it again. It’s almost 100% guaranteed. I’ve not met anyone who has volunteered and said that I would not do it again.”

Lee Orchard, Pita Shelford, Mary Simpson, Truely Harding, Cliff Matenga and Rangimahora Reddy

Uncle Mick playing hockey

Truely signed up in 2013 after losing her grandfather three years prior, and found she loved being around seniors.

“I got extremely attached to the kaumātua involved because they are so grateful for your input, even if you’re just running a game, they make you feel important.

“As a volunteer they make you feel it was worth your time going. I haven’t really looked back from that.”

“It’s like they embrace you,” says Pita.

“Going into it, a lot of us [students] have this preconception of elderly being grumpy all day. I never had grandparents around me and all the elderly people I had seen were grumpy. Seeing them in this kind of environment, it was awesome.”

Truely agrees, “They’re happy, they’re really happy and they’re hilarious.”

“They cheat, they nark on each other and they complain, ‘Is that Kaumātua even a Kaumātua? Is he old enough to be here?’ It’s really competitive.”

Uncle Mick (right) playing hockey. Fishing (below) demanded participants' concentration.

Groups fishing in ponds

Ageing well

It’s not only competitive but reinforces the concept of ageing well.

At 89, Roy (below on his motorised scooter) is a leading figure for other kaumātua.

He's been part of every Kaumātua Olympics because staying healthy is important to him.

Uncle Roy in his wheelchair

“For me, I’ve changed my eating habits."

"I no longer have cakes, chocolates, all those things."

"I just drink cold water or hot water, that’s all I do."

"I’ve been on that for three months and it makes a lot of difference."

“We have diabetes, cancer, memory loss, all those things.“

Roy finds influencing a lasting change in lifestyle and eating habits amongst his fellow kaumātua a “battle.”

He often explains to kaumātua in Māori, “Listen to the advice you’ve been given and live those principles, you’ll be better for it, but it goes in one ear and out the other. “

Those who turn up and compete love the event.

“The energy they get from the atmosphere, I believe, is a driving force to be absolutely satisfied with the day,” says Hoki.

“Ageing well, helping somebody else to age well - when we do that, we become better too."

“That’s a medicine for ourselves. The Rauawaawa Trust is about positive energy, positive influences, positive valuing."

“I believe it is why the games have lasted this long.”