When Joy Hawaikirangi-Mackenzie first got into taekwondo the martial art fell way below her self-imposed expectations.

"You sort of think of, you know, Bruce Lee," says Hawaikirangi-Mackenzie who found herself at a RTR Taekwon-Do dojang in Napier. "I wanted to be Bruce Lee."

While she isn't "quite there yet" in matching the feats of kung fu exponent Lee, who died at 33 in 1973, the 50-year-old from Napier has received a timely endorsement that she is on the right journey to a fulfilling life.

The painter/decorator returned with two gold medals and a bronze as part a contingent of 16 club members representing New Zealand at the five-day International Taekwondo World Cup, which ended in Sydney last weekend.

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Hawaikirangi-Mackenzie, who has been a fulltime caregiver for her mother, June Hawaikirangi, 92, for the past nine years, claimed golds in team patterns and team sparring and a bronze in power breaking.

The Bay contingent, in their maiden world cup, returned with five golds, a silver and seven bronze medals from an event that is held every two years and enticed more than 1000 athletes from 35 countries.

"I'm going to be Bruce Lee's grandma," said the veteran who has two children, daughter Tiffiny, 30, of Napier, and son Cailen, 28, of Brisbane.

"Tiffiny dried all my tears and gave me all the hugs," says a proud Hawaikirangi-Mackenzie of a daughter who, like Cailen, isn't sporty.

"She came for a shopping trip but it changed her as well," she says of Tiffiny who understands why her mother finds traction with the club.

The club members helped New Zealand claim 175 medals — 61 gold, 51 silver and 63 bronze. Australia were second with 87 (27g, 21s, 39b) and Argentina third 92 (25g, 29s, 38b).

Hawaikirangi-Mackenzie only took up taekwondo six years ago after an illustrious rugby career with the Clive women's rugby team as an openside flanker for two decades and picking up numerous titles.

She found herself at the dojang by chance, after reading an article in Hawke's Bay Today on a woman in her fifties engaging in the martial art.

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"I thought, 'If she can do it, I can do it'," she said with a laugh.

RTR Taekwon-Do member Ryhva van Onseleni won gold in team sparring and a bronze in speciality. Photo/Katherine Mitchell
RTR Taekwon-Do member Ryhva van Onseleni won gold in team sparring and a bronze in speciality. Photo/Katherine Mitchell

The transition wasn't easy because her first, and biggest, challenge was entering a domain where she "didn't know a soul".

But she needn't have agonised because the affable incumbents were welcoming. It felt like belonging to an extended family.

Conscious of her age, Hawaikirangi-Mackenzie sought others of a similar ilk to build a more regimented rapport although it wasn't easy because there weren't that many.

The discipline tested her mettle even though she brought a level of fitness from rugby.

On attaining her blue belt, Hawaikirangi-Mackenzie sensed higher accolades were attainable. The second dan blackbelt realises time will be her biggest hurdle in becoming a ninth dan because one becomes eligible for grading anywhere from 18 months to three years.

"Actually I'll be eligible to be a grand master when I'm 96," she said with a chuckle, mindful longevity favours her maternal lineage but she isn't banking on it.

She puts her mother's lease on life down to hard work growing up on a farm.

Hawaikirangi-Mackenzie never dreamt of making the world cup, thinking she was too old, but found comfort in the knowledge she didn't have to line up against twentysomethings on a paddock.

She is immensely proud to wear the individual tag of the world's third best power breaker in the world in her age group.

"I'm really disappointed I didn't get gold, though. I wanted gold."

What would Hawaikirangi-Mackenzie have done differently?

"I would have trained mentally differently [although] physically my body was ready."

It didn't help that she wasn't allowed to wear her spectacles, something she wasn't aware of before she left for the cup. She would have slipped on contact lenses.

RTR Taekwon-Do member Sam Ranapiri who won gold for New Zealand in team sparring as well as two bronzes in patterns and sparring in Sydney. Photo/Katherine Mitchell
RTR Taekwon-Do member Sam Ranapiri who won gold for New Zealand in team sparring as well as two bronzes in patterns and sparring in Sydney. Photo/Katherine Mitchell

The golds in a collective also are special, considering her peers hail from other parts of the country and how on an impromptu encounter they found cohesion to prevail as well as build a bond to broaden their "family" network.

Her acquisition in taekwondo, she says, surpasses her rugby ones.

"I was quite blase in my younger age, as far as sport went," Hawaikirangi-Mackenzie explained. "I was quite naturally talented in rugby and it took it for granted."

With taekwondo she has had to toil from scratch with age as the common denominator.

"I have had to work for everything because the older you get the more you have to remember things and your body doesn't do what you want it to do so I'm way more disciplined."

For Hawaikirangi-Mackenzie the martial art is now a "forever" in her portfolio.

"This is my life, I love it."

She thanked her sponsors, Gintrap Restaurant & Bar and Colourcraft Painting.

Sam Ranapiri, Ryhva van Onselen and Cody Milne also claimed team gold medals among other individual medals.

MEDAL WINNERS

Joy Hawaikirangi Mackenzie: Team patterns, gold; team sparring, gold; Power breaking bronze.

Sam Ranapiri: Team sparring, gold; patterns, bronze; sparring bronze.

Cody Milne: Team sparring, gold; sparring, bronze.

Ryhva van Onselen: Team sparring, gold; speciality, bronze.

Paul Hammond: Patterns, silver.

Richie Peters: Team patterns, bronze; team sparring, bronze.

Margot Bawden: Sparring, bronze.

Sophie Sommerville: Sparring, bronze.

Simon Jarvis: Sparring, bronze.

Ethan Miller: Great ambassador.

Cohen Batterham: Great ambassador.

Isabel van der Wal: Great ambassador.

Cameron Fox: Great ambassador.

Jessica Bills (NZ), Maria Pavel Oana (Romania), Sophie Somerville (Hastings, NZ) and Tina Belivanis (Australia) on the podium at the world cup in Sydney. Photo/Katherine Mitchell
Jessica Bills (NZ), Maria Pavel Oana (Romania), Sophie Somerville (Hastings, NZ) and Tina Belivanis (Australia) on the podium at the world cup in Sydney. Photo/Katherine Mitchell