IT might not be a sport that many Maori girls play, but the unwavering support from her grandparents has helped Phoenix Henare and her sister, Paris, to represent New Zealand in underwater hockey
Steph and Peter Lieder have brought up their two granddaughters since they were little. Over the years they have worked hard to teach them about hard work and success and now it is starting to pay off with both girls named in the New Zealand under 19 women’s team for underwater hockey.
Phoenix says they both know this wouldn’t have been possible without the support of their grandparents.
“My sister and I always had opportunities to become the best we could be. My nan played a large role in motivating my little sister to train each and every single day in the lead-up to being selected for the worlds team in 2015, and to this day their love and support drives me to do the best I can by training hard, playing hard and making them proud.”
Last month, Phoenix travelled home from Dunedin, where she is studying science at Otago University, to spend the weekend with her grandparents before she and Paris headed into camp for the New Zealand team. She says it is important to find time to spend with the family now she is living away from home.
“I am in my first year and am studying for a bachelor of science, majoring in physiology. After I have gained my bachelor [degree] in three years I hope to study for a doctorate in chiropractic medicine.
“Growing up with grandparents made me always feel grateful to have such loving people surround me during my upbringing, which I love about them and am truly grateful for. They have led me to be the person I am today and I will never be able to repay them for that but hope to in some form one day.”
While underwater hockey is a minority sport that not many Maori girls play, Phoenix says she was introduced to it when she was learning to swim.
“I got involved when I started primary school at Awakeri. As all primary schools have, we were just starting the swimming lessons during primary school hours. During one of these swimming lessons one of the teachers [Raewyn Morgan] invited the students to try to play some underwater hockey by just pushing the puck in the bin… Also during my time at the school Raewyn had just been to the Worlds [competition] that year for the under 23 women’s team and was vice captain.
Also, another student and I wrote an article about it in our school newspaper, which further intrigued me.”
She says when she left Awakeri Primary School, Raewyn’s husband Beau Morgan, who had also been there on the day that Phoenix first discovered underwater hockey, continued to develop her love of the sport.
“When I went to Trident, Beau Morgan was a teacher and he had already developed high school underwater hockey teams, which I started to play in at year 9.”
Phoenix says watching her now 17-year-old sister Paris make the team in 2015 proved to her that anything was possible if she put the effort in.
“My little sister Paris was a big reason why I wanted to make the team. As her big sister, I was so proud of her and the achievement she made when she made the under 19 New Zealand women’s team in 2015 at age 15 and being the youngest in the team.
But rather than causing any negativity between the two sisters, Phoenix says the rivalry has helped to make them better players and teammates.
“We’ve always played sports together as we’ve grown up and our increasing competiveness thrives off each other when we are playing in the same team or even against each other. Since I know how my sister plays, being in the same team as her means I link with her really well, and to have a friendly face from home in the pool or at tournaments gives you a sense of calmness when the stress of game scores and finals build up.
“I also have a very natural competitive nature and love playing competitive sports which underwater hockey exemplifies.”
She says she loves underwater hockey and enjoys the camaraderie she has found in the sport.
“It’s a sport that differs so much to other sports I play because it’s the only one where I play sport while holding my breath.
“Because underwater hockey is a minority sport in New Zealand, the underwater hockey community is very tight-knit and friendly. For example, this year I moved to Dunedin to attend Otago University and when I went to the Dunedin club games they welcomed me with open arms, even though none of them knew me personally.”