That Olena Smyth is one of this city's pacesetters is hardly surprising. Her paternal grandfather was the late great marathoner Colin Smyth (Our People, May 2, 2015).
What does come as a surprise is that his 20-year-old granddaughter's pace-setting is from a wheelchair's confines.
She may not be able to walk, let alone run, but this has never put the brakes on Olena.
A top Rotorua Lakes High student, she's at present studying for a BA at the University of Waikato, with te reo Māori and anthropology her specialist subjects.
Whether she becomes a secondary teacher or university lecturer is yet to be decided, either way, she'll obtain her Masters first.
Hopefully, come August she's heading to Hawaii for six months, Covid-19 permitting. The university will make a final call on that on May 1. If she makes it this won't be any leisurely holiday, rather she'll be there as an exchange student attending the University of Hawaii in Manoa studying anthropology.
Hawaii is the most fitting of places for her to go, her unique name's pure Hawaiian and comes from the island group's exotic Olena bloom.
It was preordained that would be what she would be called.
"Way before I was born two Hawaiian groups came here [Rotorua] to take part in the Aotearoa Traditional Māori Performing Arts Festival [now Te Matatini] and my koro, Rakei Fraser, fell in love with their song, Pua Olena. He lent over to my mum and said, 'If ever you have a baby girl you have to call her Olena' so when she had me, it was natural she'd call me that."
Mum's Leilani Ngawhika who, after a lengthy spell at the Department of Conservation, studied at Te Wananga O Aotearoa to become a teacher, and is now plying her profession at Sunset Primary.
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"I guess seeing mum train as a teacher did influence me a bit towards becoming a teacher myself," Olena speculates.
"If I do take that path I'd love to return to Lakes High and work alongside some of the amazing staff I formed bonds with while a student there."
However, she has one reservation about fronting up to classrooms full of students, it's that wheelchair of hers. She fears the kids may not be open to it - not that it's been a problem in the past, her early primary years apart.
"Back then there was a bit of bullying, teasing by other little kids who couldn't understand why I couldn't get up and run around with them."
But those days are long gone. As her classmates matured so did their attitudes to Olena and the condition that's been with her since birth.
She was 11 months old and not meeting normal Plunket milestones when she was diagnosed as having the form of cerebral palsy that's known as spastic diplegia. Its symptoms are defined by a tightness of the body's lower extremities, usually the legs, as is the case with Olena.
She holds no grudges that her lot in life is as a disabled person.
"What I have has always been with me so I don't know anything different," is her pragmatic analysis of her condition.
When she was 8 or 9, Olena's unsure which, she had surgery at Starship Children's Hospital on her hips and - wait for this - botox treatments "to relax my leg muscles". We're glad she clarified that - there's not a wrinkle on Olena's extremely pretty face with those perpetually dancing eyes of hers.
Her hip op was followed by six months' rehab time in Auckland's Wilson Home, formerly known as the Wilson Home for Crippled Children.
There she met a man she came to idolise – All Blacks great Jonah Lomu.
"He was visiting the boy I was sharing space with, he'd had a bad rugby injury and Jonah came to see him. He was a very lovely guy, so kind-hearted. My dad [Wayne Smyth] was there, Jonah posed for pictures with us. It was such an amazing opportunity."
So amazing that in Year 8 at Mokoia Intermediate Olena won the school's speech competition with Jonah as her subject matter.
Much as she shuns any suggestion she's a brainbox Olena was "up there" throughout her school days, topping her class at Mokoia. At Lakes she shone at te reo Māori, along with media studies, and became a prefect.
Her media studies success led her to consider a career in journalism.
"I really enjoy talking to people and have a passion for writing, maths and science were never my thing."
Olena shelved her journalistic aspirations when she realised the logistics of the job would be too difficult to conquer.
"I don't drive and being in my chair would have made it very difficult to get to interview people."
That realisation switched her mind towards university and an initial BA.
She enrolled at the University of Waikato in 2017, applied for, and received, various scholarships and grants but had to return them when her mum stepped in.
"Two or three weeks before I was to go she said she didn't think I was quite ready for university so I went to Toi Ohomai and did a six-month preparation for university course."
She entered Waikato's portals the following year, living in a wheelchair-friendly unit attached to the Halls of Residence.
"It's really good, I'm fully independent and don't have to share a bathroom. One of my uncles worked with the finance team to get me a front-loading washing machine and have automatic doors put in so I didn't drop my laundry basket trying to hold the heavy fire doors open."
She's loved student life, is the student rep on the Māori faculty board and ACHIEVE, the national post-secondary education disability network.
She holds a Golden Key award for marks in the university's top 15 per cent.
One thing Olena's not is a party girl.
"I much prefer to have a cup of coffee with friends and I really enjoy studying in blocks of about six hours at a time.
"University's allowed me to flourish, show my leadership skills. So far I've escaped any fails."
That's a gross understatement, she's recently achieved four A+s. Be proud Rotorua, be very proud that this high achiever is one of us.
Born: Rotorua, 1999
Education: Whakarewarewa Primary, Mokoia Intermediate, Lakes High, Waikato University. Has twice been awarded Beverley Anaru Scholarship study grants.
Family: Mother Leilani Ngawhika, father Wayne Smyth, stepdad Jack Ngawhika, stepbrother Tamawhakaara Ngawhika, half-sister Kayla Adams.
Iwi Affiliations: Te Arawa – Ngāti Whakaue "and a lot more".
Interests: Kapa haka, "I've always done poi and the movements from my chair."
Member of the Te Arawa Tautoko Pakeke team and the late Aunty Bea's group.
Singing, "I love to sing, especially Toni Braxton numbers."
Spending time with friends
On life in a wheelchair: "It's my normal."
On Rotorua: "It's my ahuru mowai (safe haven)"
Personal philosophy: If I can inspire someone else and make them realise their potential I've done my job."