After a year of undiagnosed injury has left Eliza McCartney's feet frustratingly flat on the track, a change of career direction outside athletics is providing a welcome jolt of perspective.

The Olympic bronze medal pole vaulter last year changed her university degree to environmental science out of a "deep love" for the Kiwi landscape, and she's just become the new face of a longstanding initiative to preserve it.

McCartney is encouraging Kiwis to recycle their old mobiles and prevent e-waste as the new ambassador of RE:mobile - with a campaign intricately tied up with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The 22-year-old told the Weekend Herald she hopes helping RE:mobile's October push for awareness will be her initial step to becoming a leader in conservation issues post-athletics.

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"It was only with doing more study at a tertiary level I started to really get into it [environmental issues]," McCartney said.

"It almost makes you angry; you realise there's so much we do to abuse our planet. It gives us everything we have, yet we really are ignorant to that and don't treat it how we should.

"So that just sparked wanting to know more, know solutions. And I've just fallen into that and become really fascinated."

Mid-2018, McCartney transferred from a science degree majoring in physiology at the University of Auckland to a pure environmental science degree at Massey University, which she largely does by correspondence around the world-athletics tour.

"It hasn't been that long but I've been loving it and it feels more like a hobby than something I have to study," she says.

"Science has always been my area, what I've been good at, and I've always had a curiosity for how things work within the natural world.

"I really enjoyed biology at school and that led into physiology around how the human body works.

"But just growing up in New Zealand, we also have a great appreciation for what we have outdoors."

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Established in 2011, and accredited by the Ministry for the Environment in 2014, the RE:mobile scheme partners with 2degrees, Spark and Vodafone to raise awareness around mobile phone recycling - with 95 per cent of materials reusable.

McCartney is encouraging Kiwis to recycle their old mobiles and prevent e-waste as the new ambassador of RE:mobile - with a campaign intricately tied up with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
McCartney is encouraging Kiwis to recycle their old mobiles and prevent e-waste as the new ambassador of RE:mobile - with a campaign intricately tied up with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

McCartney's association with RE:mobile has also been a means to redirect some energy while unable to compete in 2019.

McCartney says the injury that forced her to pull out of the World Athletics Championships in Doha this September has only recently been correctly diagnosed as deep gluteal syndrome - a nerve condition causing pain down her hamstring.

"Essentially what it manifested into was when I tried to run at speed, which of course pole vault involves, I just was in pain and inhibited," McCartney says.

"Thankfully that is no longer an issue and I'm into normal training. I've had a really tough year and I haven't been able to compete, which obviously isn't great before an Olympics, but I still have our whole domestic season ahead.

"I've been able to make quite big changes to the injuries I had so I'm feeling a lot more confident than even a couple of weeks ago that I'll be ready in time for the Tokyo Olympics."

All of the medals awarded at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will be made from recycled electronic waste.

Olympic pole vaulting star Eliza McCartney is now heading up the RE:Mobile appeal. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Olympic pole vaulting star Eliza McCartney is now heading up the RE:Mobile appeal. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Organisers have collected 30.3kg of gold, 4100kg of silver and 2700kg of bronze to create the 5000 medals, and components from Kiwi mobiles recycled through RE:mobile will also be sent to Japan.

NZ Telecommunications Forum chief executive Geoff Thorn, who oversees RE:mobile, says the choice of McCartney as ambassador aims to target a younger audience in possession of many of the 1.2 million mobiles gathering dust in Kiwi cupboards.

"You put that together with Eliza's interest in the environment and it's a good mix. It sits well with us," Thorn says.

While only studying part time has McCartney realistically aiming to graduate in 2025, she sees her future in environmental advocacy post-athletics.

"It's hard to imagine what it will exactly look like at the moment but that's absolutely a path I would love to go down," she says.

"It's one of the greatest issues of our time and for my generation particularly.

"It's something I feel I can maybe make a difference in and become a leader in the area. Because apparently there aren't enough, because enough isn't being done."