Shooting her shot – On tour with the Tall Blacks

The Basketball world cup is afoot and right at the centre of the action is Wellpark College of Natural Therapies’ Moderator and Senior Massage Tutor, Shelley Moana Hiha. As the Lead Massage Therapist for the Tall Blacks, Hiha plays an integral role in the team, preparing the athletes as they set off to Asia for their qualifiers. The days are long but ‘well worth it’ she says with a smile. “I could be massaging after midnight. But you know… it’s worth it. It’s worth it and I love it. I was raised in an environment where we support, we do whatever it takes”.

Hiha is heavily involved in the day to day workings of the team, whether it’s meeting with the teams Physiotherapist to discuss treatments, late night appointments or making sure everyone is hydrated; there isn’t a task too big or small.

From a young age, Hiha took an interest in massage, practicing on friends, family and team mates, as a hobby. After some 10 years, Hiha realised this could be her calling and re-trained from working in trade unions and policy adherence, to become a Massage Therapist. 18 years later, she has found her place in high performance and professional sports and teaching at Wellpark College, another passion of hers, educating the next generation of Massage Therapists.

For many people, massage may not be a consideration, when dreaming of a career in healthcare or sports, but Hiha is proving her weight in both games. “Massage has been around in sport for a lot longer than it has been around in a lot of other areas. When my father was playing representative rugby, they had massage therapists with their teams in the 50s. So, sports massage is possibly better known than a lot of other massage methods in New Zealand.

One of its main benefits – of sports massage is its use, predominantly to maintain an injury-free athlete. They usually say there are two types of athletes, the injured athlete or the not yet injured athlete” Hiha chuckles.

Regular massage also helps to aid rapid recovery and obviously enhances the athletes’ performance, by helping them to have better range of movement, massage enables them to train to a more optimal level and also play hopefully to an optimal level”.

Hiha recognises that while much of her professional career is focused on sport, she works with other aspects of massage: therapeutic, remedial and relaxation massage which are growing features of the understanding of general wellbeing in New Zealand, which, she says, is fantastic.

“Once you are trained – as long as you have your two hands – you can go anywhere in the world and do massage. This is a healthcare profession within which you can choose a number of different ways of working. I’ve been able to work part-time or full-time in massage. I can choose which days I work because – you know- it’s a 7-days industry.

And there are lots of different places you can work. You can go and work on cruise ships and travel or go and work in ski resort during the winter and then go and work somewhere else in the summer. You can be like me and work with other health professionals. You can work from home. You can do mobile massage like one of our other tutors – Barbara Fleming – who takes her massage table and goes and massage these people in their own homes. And these are only some of the options that are available. So really, you can actually just work out what to do and how to do it, you know”.

It’s clear that Hiha has kneaded out a way of working that fits her lifestyle, and the opportunity to travel with the Tall Blacks has come off the back of a career of hard work. While she will be missed, during her working sabbatical away from campus, by students and colleagues at Wellpark. Everyone is backing the team in black, hoping for great results on the world stage.