Kaitaia local Dena-Maree Hemara (nō Te Māhurehure me Ngāti Rangi) wears multiple pōtae – business owner, kaiako, contractor, māmā – and now she can add NZ Exercise Award winner to that bundle.
Tikanga kaiako Dena-Maree, owns Whitirau Cross100, a cross-fit gym in Kaitaia she started in September 2022 when she was unable to travel to Kaikohe to her preferred cross-fit classes.
By winning the inaugural Te Piki Oranga award at this year’s NZ Exercise Awards, her humble, small-town gym has been acknowledged for their kaupapa and contribution to community hauora.
Te Piki Oranga, the first Māori category award, can be understood as ‘elevating the lifestyle or longevity of someone’s health’.
“That’s exactly what we are trying to embody and role model. Our goal is to consistently role model the values and teachings of our ancestors through this model of hauora, of pakihi, of reo, of tikanga. With this taonga it elevates us to be more responsible to get out there and share what we do. Whitirau, whakawhiti i ngā rau whakaaro, kia aro pū ki te hauora o tangata, kia taurite pai, ko te whare tapawha,” she says.
Functional fitness classes at Whitirau Cross100 are predominantly in te reo Māori and clients are encouraged to bring their tamariki. By providing an environment where barriers can be overcome and Māori can hear their language, Dena-Maree is aiming to change hauora in her community.
Dena-Maree has found a lot of cross-over between running functional fitness classes, and teaching Te Whāinga o Te Ao Tikanga at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa.
She was drawn to Te Wānanga o Aotearoa as she wanted to be somewhere she could combine her knowledge and skills in te reo and tikanga with her commitment to improving hauora and allowing people to grow.
Dena-Maree has watched her tauira grow in confidence, with some wanting to delve into their whakapapa or expand their pepeha.
She describes her tikanga classes, with a strong hauora strand focusing on balancing Te Whare Tapa Whā, as a way of broadening connection within a community.
“They’re an introduction to how we can enhance growth of mātauranga Māori and tikanga in our everyday lives. I get to drop little gems here and there on what tikanga means to me and how I embody that every day,” she says.
The desire to help others understand their own journey of learning, and how they can improve their lifestyle and connection with te ao Māori is what drives Dena-Maree.
She is teaching people through tikanga and functional fitness that change can be created from the small moments when we prioritise ourselves and our hauora.
“I’m here to elevate that waka o te ora. If you believe, are passionate and driven, and have the support of your people and your ancestors, then anything is achievable,” she says.