Among the spin bikes and punching bags in the Toitū Pōneke Sports Hub, a group of rangatahi have found their happy place.
Three years ago, Evolve Wellington Youth Service launched its Youth Hauora Project to help make physical activity more accessible to rangatahi. Free afterschool gym sessions have been running every week ever since. In a new move for Youth Week on May 15, three young wāhine, who have been attending the weekly free gym sessions since its inception, will take the lead as personal trainers.
Evolve’s Youth Projects Coordinator Lourdes Lefaoseu says the new opportunity to upskill the trio is giving the keen gym-goers a taste of leadership.
Ahead of Youth Week and in a gym session at Toitū Pōneke Community and Sports Centre, Izzy Stagg, 14, Tawhirikura Doyle, 18, are shadowing Lourdes - a former group fitness instructor – as she leads a group through a strength training circuit.
Evolve received funding for the delivery of the programme this year through a Youth Week Grant, supported by Ara Taiohi and Sport New Zealand. Youth Week aims to amplify the voices of rangatahi, the valuable contributions they make to their communities and provide them with opportunities to run events in their communities during the festival week.
“I was a young person and this is something I wish I had,” says Lourdes.
“When I was in high school, exercise wasn’t a thing I did, so now I want to be that someone that would have got me into exercise back then because it would have had such a positive impact on my mental health - so now that’s what I’m trying to do,” says Lourdes.
Izzy and Tawhirikura were encouraged to come three years ago through family and friend connections.
“I feel like a lot of young girls aren’t body confident or confident that they are able to do the exercises properly in a traditional gym because they don’t have experience. It’s great having this support system here where you don’t have to plan your workouts and where there are other young girls as well,” says Tawhirikura.
“I prefer to come to the gym, rather than play other sports and I want to become a personal trainer to help motivate others to come,” says Izzy.
Tawhirikura is currently working towards securing a basketball scholarship in the United States, and she simply wants to help give other young wāhine the chance to be active – so they can reap the same benefits she has been able to.
“For me, physical activity and sport has been a pathway to education, meeting new people and getting to travel. It’s also just a form of being happy and releasing endorphins, so it’s good physically and mentally. It’s also about being able to support people who might not want to necessarily play sport,” says Tawhirikura.
Tawhirikura says the role models and buddy system at play in the programme make it appealing to a range of rangatahi from all backgrounds.
Sofia Gowans, 19 and Hinetekawa Thomson-Laulu, 19, are referred to as the “OGs” of the Youth Hauora Project.
The duo have also been attending since the programme’s inception.
“It’s so accessible for anyone,” says Sofia.
“Nobody cares about your fitness background or what school you’re from. It’s more just you come to work out together. The vibes are so good and I have formed such good friendships.”
Hine says she loves it and the group has grown since the early days when there were just three girls.
“I was always unfit and didn’t really feel confident in myself and coming here made me love myself a bit better.”
During a session ahead of Youth Week, there are endless laughs, supportive nudges to keep going throughout the circuit-based workout and high fives all round when the final buzzer marks the end of the session. Then the snacks come out and the floor is opened up for chats.
For Lourdes, the programme is helping to fill a gap for rangatahi who may not have easy access to a gym, while also helping her achieve her dream of one day owning her own gym just for young people.
“I want to grow this to where we have our own gym space and where we can offer all aspects of wellbeing.”