Those tackling today's half marathon leg through the Redwoods have an event ambassador to thank for the choice of course.

It's Rachel Grunwell who promoted its picturesque appeal to event organisers.

She's a hometown girl who grew up loving the Redwoods, she still does despite being a Jafa by adoption

We forgive her for that, she's adamant she remains Rotorua to the core of her super fit being.


She was born here, went to school here and for the first few years of her working life was one of this newspaper's reporting team.

We giggle together how Our People's compiler was that tarter of a boss who assigned her interviews that had her quaking in her stilettos. My, how the tables have turned, never for a nano-second then did we dream one day it would be us interviewing her. We're proud as heck to be doing so.

The greenhorn reporter she was in the 1990s has blossomed into an award-winning journalist, internationally recognised as a health and fitness guru who fronts for multi-national and national companies giving motivational talks, up there with the best of them.

Last night she was on the pre-event panel sharing running experiences and tips with today's field. Rachel's were peppered with wellness wisdom she's garnered as a yoga teacher, specialising in working with athletes.

She's a far cry from the girl we knew in her Post days. Then, by her own admission, she was "caffeinated and horribly unfit".

Before she leads us along the marathon course that transformed her life (the "power of transformation" are words that dominate her conversation) we revert to our newsroom persona demanding an on-deadline overview of what it was that made her Rotorua growing up years memorable.

"As I've got older I've really treasured that this place was my home, it gave me such a grounded upbringing. At Lakes High I was in Aunty Bea's class [Bea Yates, Our People November 18, 2012], the only Pakeha in the Maori group, I just loved absorbing the local legends, culture, walking in the Redwoods with my family; to be honest that was the only exercise I got."

There's a shamefaced admission here: this multi-marathoner would do her darndest to dodge the school cross-country run on the pretext she was too busy with her music.

It's another area in which she excels. Learning to play the sax well before entering high school she was lead saxophonist in the local Combined Schools' Orchestra.

She still plays "but only for my kids and myself".

Music had been an early career option, she spent a year at Waikato University studying it along with English, but it was the ad she spotted for a junior reporter that drew her home.

Rachel Grunwell and Achilles guide Jonathon Hagger are escorting sightless Tamati Pearse in today's marathon. Photo/Supplied
Rachel Grunwell and Achilles guide Jonathon Hagger are escorting sightless Tamati Pearse in today's marathon. Photo/Supplied

"I was working in the holidays with my dad, Nick, who's a landscaper at Waiariki [now Toi Ohomai]. I was 17, knew nothing about writing but I learnt so much, on the back of my Post portfolio I was a Young Journalist of the Year finalist."

Since then she's been named Social Issues Journalist of the Year.

Long before that she'd been poached from the Post. An about-to-be launched new daily newspaper in Manukau nabbed her. "I was the first reporter employed, it folded within a year."

The Waikato Times and Sunday Star Times dangled offers, she went for the larger paper. "I guess I just go for things. I was breaking these big stories, but it took years and years to refine the craft."

Work consumed her, she remained unfit but her social life was good. She met Damien Buckley a network architect ("think Matrix with all those figures on a whiteboard") at a party. They married 13 years ago, producing three sons since.

It was soon after the birth of her youngest that fitness entered Rachel's world and she thanks journalism for it.

"The Herald on Sunday asked me to write a fitness and wellness column, I knew absolutely nothing about it, about nutrition, but there I was experiencing a different aspect every week, you name it I did it, I've even tried and survived trapeze flying from a three storey building, that was terrifying."

Tackling yoga and meditation for a column, Rachel fell in love with the ancient practices, four years ago she qualified as a teacher.

"A lot of what I wrote rubbed off on me, inspired me, I swapped my stilettos for trainers, started to run, hated it, I'd go out on my own alternating walking with a little running, arriving home as red as a fire engine.

"I really understand that beginning running is the hardest part, but I'm bloody minded, stuck with it until I felt I was getting somewhere."

She sought out personal trainer Shortland Streeter Pua Magasiva. "He said 'you don't need a PT you need a MM, a miracle maker'. He slaughtered me, I got fitter and fitter." In July Rachel qualifies as a PT/MM in her own right.

Her first half marathon was in Taupo, her first full course was Rotorua five years ago.

"I ran with my dad, that was very special."

Since then she's notched up 19, Sydney and New York included.

Leading disabled runners has become a passion that's brought another ambassadorship, this one for the Achilles charity dedicated to the less able. Today she and Achilles guide Jonathon Hagger are escorting sightless Tamati Pearse.

"These people are truly inspiring, they've taught me the only barriers in life are the ones you put up yourself. One of my runners is now a lot faster than me."

Achilles Charity is an addition to her raft of ambassadorships, the Rotorua Marathon and Polynesian Spa included.

Rotorua's half and full courses have a magnetic pull on her.

"They're stunning, there's nothing like lapping the lake looking out at Mokoia, it's confirmation I'll always be connected to Rotorua. I don't enter them because they're easy, I could enter the Christchurch event for that, Rotorua's testing, it's a marathon with a heart."

Born: Rotorua, 1976
Education: Mokoia Primary and Intermediate, Lakes High, Waikato University, post graduate papers in writing
Family: Husband Damien Buckley, sons Lachlan, Zac, Finn; parents Nick and Chris Grunwell, brother Jamie (Rotorua), sister Rebecca (Gisborne)
Interests: Family, running, yoga, "living a mindful life". Reading "There's always a massive stack of wellness books by my bed." Book club member, music.
On her life: "I am proud I can inspire people to transform from being unhealthy, unfit to healthy and fit."
On Rotorua: "My heart's connected to this place."
On eating: "I believe in balance, it's okay to drink coffee, eat chocolate, have a glass of bubbles in moderation."
Personal philosophy: "You can't choose what happens to you but you can make the choice how to respond."