She grew up in a family of high achievers in sport but Shelley Moana Hiha never felt the pressure to emulate the feat of her parents, Marg and Ruruarau Heitia Hiha, in Hawke's Bay.

For Hiha, the pressure came from the parents' profession as schoolteachers and her siblings' academic excellence.

"I was the youngest child in the family so I was out to prove I was going to be my own person and so I was never going to be a teacher," says Hiha who is the longtime SkyCity New Zealand Breakers and Tall Blacks massage therapist.

Her resolve had hardened towards the teaching profession because many people often remarked on how she would follow in the footprints of her parents.


The 56-year-old, of Auckland, fondly recalls it was the nimble fingers of her father - a Hawke's Bay-born former Maori All Black lock who represented the Magpies (1954-57, 1962-64) - that caught her eye.

"He used to massage when he was playing for Hawke's Bay rugby and the trainer used him to massage before the games," she says, revealing Ruruarau had started religiously watching the Magpies' games and massaging players after the final whistle.

The word got around of his therapy and Marg, who also was a Bay women's hockey representative, started employing his services as well as for herself and her teammates all the way to New Zealand level.

"So I grew up with massage," she says, honing her skills on family, friends and teammates.

Marg, who had retrained to become a careers counsellor, automatically became Hiha's sounding board and adviser at home.

"I had a few sessions with her so she helped me see that I could change my direction.

"It's the best decision I ever made because I do what I love as a career, as opposed to a hobby because sport is my passion and I feel at home.

"We grew up in sport so for me to work in it and massage is my dream job. It's the whole cliche - I'm living the dream and I'm fortunate to be paid for doing what I love."

Born in the village of Te Puia Springs, about 130km north of Gisborne, she moved to Napier when her father returned to Napier.

"I have Ngati Kahungunu on dad's side so I'm a Hawke's Bay girl through and through," she says with immense pride.

She attended Henry Hill Primary School, Wycliffe Intermediate and the then Colenso (now William Colenso) College.

She then obtained secretarial qualifications from the defunct Hawke's Bay Community College where the Eastern Insitute of Technology now operates.

Hiha worked at the now defunct Daily Telegraph in Napier for five years before moving down to Wellington to work in 1985 where older sister Anne Aroha, 61, was living at the time although she returned to settle in Napier.

"I thought it was time to leave home and see the world a little bit," she explains.

In 2001, she headed north to Auckland to retrain, after gaining a diploma in intuitive vibration of healing in the capital city. She topped that up with the title of "reiki master". Reiki is a form of energy healing.

The teaching backgrounds of her parents meant the Hiha children were never shy to ask any questions because they got thorough, no stones unturned explanations.

It wasn't so much what Ruruarau said to her at an impressionable age while massaging that still resonates with her but what he did that does.

"When I played hockey for Hawke's Bay, when it came to the semifinals and finals, that I was still there was because of the massages I got from dad during the week."

As the recipient of massage, Hiha realised and quickly appreciated the therapeutic value which she could eventually impress and relate first-hand to her clients.

"You know, after a game you felt like you totally couldn't take the field again but after a massage and a good night's sleep and things like that you could."

The impact was infectious and far reaching, leading to the establishment of protocols with elite Bay sport organisations well before there was any research conducted on it.

"It wasn't a paid position in those days, you know, so he did it because he could."

The generosity and selflessness of her father's act was slowly growing on an unsuspecting Hiha before she reached an age of awareness and wanted to embrace it.

"I couldn't have asked for two better role models than my mum and dad."

Significantly Hiha has added to the proud tradition of becoming an educator in the family, too.

"I also teach massage therapy but growing up I always said, 'I'm never going to be a teacher' but I am now," she says with an ironic laugh.

She is mindful her parents are proud of her career achievements as they are in following the career paths of Anne Aroha, sister Kanui Allana, 59, and brother Shane, 57.

"They are really pleased to know I've found what I really love doing and that I do it for a job. It's not the reason you do a job but it's nice to know I have got the total support of my family and not just mum and dad but my brother as well.

"It was more when I was going to school and people would dare me - not just Mum and Dad were teachers - to be like my siblings."

Anne Aroha had set the tone with an "all-round excellence" report card in high school and Kanui Allana was prefect and head girl.

"My father would label me the black sheep of the family because I didn't know any different, having spent my pre-teen and teenage years in the schooling life trying to prove that I was nothing like anybody else in the family. I was Shelley and that I'm different.

"If I knew then what I know now - that all I had to be was just myself - and thought about it I might have done things differently but in one area, sport, I didn't feel that much pressure at all because we just went from one sport to another."

Hiha realises now she spent her collective energy on thinking about what she wasn't going to be before the penny dropped years later.

"I finally matured to realise 'Why don't I just do what I want to do' and that I'd found things that worked for me much better."

Healthzone Medical Clinic, a private practice where she has worked since 2003 based at the Millenium Institute of Sports complex, remains a place where she can go back to work.

It dawns on her that the clinic could have simply asked her to leave considering she was away for long periods.

Ditto the Wellpark College of Natural Therapies, where she teaches.

"But for them as long as I can cover for my teachings I'm fine to go because I don't have to ask them every time I'm leaving."

Hiha is pleased the college recognises her role as someone who educates others wanting to be professionals and doesn't put her job in jeopardy.

"They fully support us living our dreams and chasing our goals but I never take those things for granted and am fully appreciative of it's not what I put in but I have a job to go back to."

So Hiha must be super rich?

"No, no, no. I love work but no there's not a lot of money in that. There's a lot of enjoyment but not a lot of money."

She clarifies she makes enough money to bankroll "a good lifestyle and I don't have children or a partner".

"I'm single, I have no children and I don't have a big mortgage because I rent and I'm away so much and things like that."

If she considers buying property it'll be in the Bay.

"So I can do whatever I want to do. I suppose I'm rich in other ways. I'm rich in the sense that I don't go without anything."

That includes going out to a movie theatre or simply having dinner with friends.

"I don't have to sit at home and go, "Oh gosh, I have no money'. I earn enough to have a lifestyle but I certainly not rich from it."

If you had asked her a decade ago if she would return to the Bay, she couldn't visualise it but every time that she returns here for a visit she is beginning to appreciate what her province offers in terms of beauty and quality of life.

"If I'm semi-retired or retired I would go back if the work is there, the sort of work I want to do," she said.

The pull becomes stronger in the knowledge that her parents are in their 80s, and all her siblings, bar Allana, live here.

"Napier's beautiful, why wouldn't I want to live there, but Auckland offers me the type of work I want to do, so for now I'm in Auckland having the career that I really love.

"If a few more elite teams popped up in Hawke's Bay and wanted a massage therapist then I'm at that stage where I'm ready to move back home."