Ngāi Te Rangi , Ngāti Ranginui
- National women's long-jump champion
- Master of Management Studies
- Bachelor of Communication Studies
Waikato masters graduate Mariah Ririnui is the New Zealand women’s long-jump champion. She bagged the national title in March this year – seven years after winning it the last time.
She’s finding it a bit of a challenge working full-time and maintaining the training schedule of an elite athlete, but she’s determined to defend her national title in March 2022. If she does, it’ll be her fourth national long-jump title, and she’s also been a 100-metre sprint champion.
“Last season I thought, I’m not done yet and got back into training. I’m lucky that the places I travel to in my job have training facilities,” Mariah says.
She joined her first athletics club when she was just five years old, and now she’s coaching co-ordinator for Athletics New Zealand – the ideal job for a dedicated athlete.
Mariah (Ngāi Te Rangi and Ngāti Ranginui) has a Bachelor of Communication Studies majoring in Public Relations, and a Master of Management Studies (first class honours), specialising in Public Relations.
She squeezed in her master's degree while recovering from a ruptured achilles, completing a dissertation on communications around athlete supplements; what prompted people to buy and use them and the methods of communication used to influence use.
“Turns out athletes were mostly influenced by other elite athletes, often unaware at that time that athletes promoting supplement use didn’t have to state or acknowledge they were in a paid partnership," she says.
Mariah chose to study at the University of Waikato because she was already travelling from her home in Tauranga to Hamilton once or twice a week where her training squad was based, and because the university offered Sir Edmund Hillary scholarships to high-achieving students who excelled in the sports or arts.
“There were so many benefits attached to the scholarship,” she says. “So many development opportunities, training sessions, strength and conditioning coaches available and free gym membership. There were sessions on leadership, and it was great learning to lead with like-minded people, athletes who shared similar experiences, and musicians and dancers too. The whole environment was really cool.”
Mariah says she didn’t have a set career in mind when she came from Tauranga Girls’ College to university in 2013, but she studied communications because she realised it could open avenues to all sorts of careers. Her first job after graduating was as a community sports advisor at Sport Bay of Plenty. It required her to liaise with many clubs and local councils, dealing with such things as memorandums of understanding.
“My Bachelor of Communication degree at Waikato gave me really good foundation of skills, communication skills, written and spoken that I could apply to a lot of situations," she says. "You can learn specific industry knowledge, and I already good community sport knowledge having been on my athletics club committee for three years prior, but the communications skills I acquired in my degree are applicable to almost any field."
Her next job took her to Auckland and Athletics New Zealand, the governing body for track and field, cross country running, road running and racewalking in New Zealand. She was club development leader, and again her degree proved useful as she was tasked with overseeing development programmes for the 170 athletics clubs throughout the country. Eighteen months later she became Athletics New Zealand’s coaching co-ordinator. Based in Tauranga, her role requires her to be on the road a lot, leading professional development for community-level coaches and responsible for upskilling parents and junior coaches.
“It’s a job where you have to be forward-thinking because we’re driving what happens across the country, working with key regional people, and sometimes they don’t have any permanent coaches. “We’ve got to make sure the children are being coached properly learning the right fundamental skills that is best for their long-term development. We help coaches deliver the skills and for them to understand why they’re important. It’s all about relationships, delivering the how and why.”
It helps that when she’s speaking with coaches and parents she can back up her sports knowledge with experience.
The Commonwealth Games take place next year in Birmingham and Mariah’s goal is to make the New Zealand team. She knows she’s got to maintain a demanding training schedule, fitting it in around her work, if she’s to be one of a relatively small track and field squad of 18.