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Degree student keeping the balls in the air

October 8, 2014

Denise AiolupoteaNetball star, mother-of- two and full-time degree student Denise Aiolupotea knew she was bumping up an already heavy workload when she formed a support group for Pacific Island and Maori mothers in Hawke’s Bay.

Denise is finding her Bachelor of Recreation and Sport studies are opening up lots of doors.

“Initially I thought I would teach PE but I’ve found there’s a whole world I can take my qualification into.”

For her industry project, a requirement of final-year degree studies, she wanted to provide something other than netball for the local Pacifika community.

Denise was selected for Samoa’s netball squad when she was just 19.  Although she remained on the bench when the team played Singapore, she found it was a good experience.

“I was one of a handful selected from an Australian base,” says the 26-year-old, who moved to Brisbane to join her Samoan father for most of her high school education.

Pondering a project to complete her degree, Denise was initially drawn to the problem areas of diabetes and obesity.   She was diverted, however, by a new programme that was being developed by Sport Hawke’s Bay and required student support.

The eight-week programme for Pacific Island and Maori mothers provides interactive nutritional advice on making preferred meals healthier.  As part of the package, active Pacifika classes with exercise tasters are also being offered in the community.

Having helped plan and launch the programme, Denise recently started working with a group of mothers.

She’s finding that a rewarding undertaking, even if she is pressed for time.  Captain of the Flaxmere-based MAC team for the last three years, the goal attack also works part-time in a developmental role for Hawke’s Bay Netball.

“I am really busy and finding it hard, but I tell myself to stick it out and there will be rewards.  I just need to keep going.”

Denise’s support team includes husband Tiomai and family and an older sister who also helps with the care of the couple’s pre-schoolers, Tyler and Teeana.

Once she graduates, Denise says it will be her turn to support Tiomai on his career pathway.  In the meantime she is looking to the example set by her mother, Carol Priest.

“She’s definitely been a role model.  It wasn’t until I moved back here that I realised how hard it was for her working as a single mum with five children.  After a year off to have my daughter, I came back to EIT full-time in 2013.  I knew I needed to finish my degree regardless of my situation.

“I’m the baby in the family and will be the first to graduate with a degree.  It’s going to be a really big achievement for me.”