Shelley Moana Hiha is a disciple of the school of spiritual healing.

"A lot of my clients say that I have healing hands and they can feel the warmth coming from the hands," says Hiha, who is the Skycity New Zealand Breakers and Tall Blacks massage therapist, based in Auckland.

"It's something that is within me," she says, having become aware of the gift when she used to work alongside her aunts' healing sessions at the marae. "I know I'm in the right place, I'm in the calling that I took a few detours to get to."

However, Hiha loves the basketball environment.

Advertisement

"To serve as Maori and as a woman in a men's environment, they have a great culture and I never feel unsupported or out of place. They make it as I'm there to do a job but I've been in some teams where it hasn't seemed like that."

She is in her 10th season with the Breakers, which eventually led her to the Tall Blacks stable.

Hiha feels she was in the right place at the right time, having obtained a diploma in clinical sports and massage at NZCM. She also developed a rapport with physiotherapist Anousith Bouaaphone who was prepared to approach her.

"Over the years I've managed to build on it and the Breakers have supported it," she says of something that evolved from supervising students to being a fully fledged member of the support staff - attending weekly meetings with the head coach, Paul Henare, of Napier, fellow therapists and administrative staff.

"Normally a massage therapist is seen as someone under the physiotherapist rather than an equal voice managing their own programme."

She lauds Bouaaphone's forward thinking in recognising that therapists should take responsibility for their own discipline.

"The Breakers went with that as well to recognise that actually the best person to run and make decisions around massage is the massage therapist."

The weekly reviews entail all the support staff making suggestions on improving the players' lot.

"It's really rewarding not just to massage but also for massage to be valued as an intergral and compulsory part of the Breakers' programme.

"It isn't something that is seen as a luxury but helping to prevent injuries and helping to assist in recoveries and boosting performance."

Hiha, who works at Healthzone Medical Clinic, a private practice where she has worked since 2003 based at the Millenium Institute of Sports complex, believes the way Breakers have embraced her therapy is how all the codes should do it.

In 2012, the Tall Blacks approached her. She organised other therapists to attend to them but didn't travel with the team for the first two years.

In 2014, she travelled with them for 10 weeks to the Fiba World Cup campaign, the Tall Blacks' first tour with a massage therapist.

Bouaaphone still does the initial assessment and diagnosis of injuries.

"If they went down in front of me and the physio wasn't there I'd put ice on it, so I'd know what to do in terms of applying first aid."

Collectively, however, they will look at how to tackle an injury to decipher who will have the most effective impact on recovery.

"As a massage therapist in the country we're not allowed to diagnose. We can say this has all the signs and symptms of blah, blah, blah and do assessments but we can't diagnose. Even if I'm pretty sure someone's got a tear in the calf muscle I'm not legally allowed to diagnose that without a physio present."

Quite often there's a crossover between the phsyio and massage therapist's paths but they carry out what is best for the player and the team.

The pair have worked together for more than a decade and operate almost via osmosis although Hiha is mindful there have been times in other codes where the parties have been heading in opposite directions.

Hiha's very respectful of the environment she conducts her practice in. Fulfilling her contractual obligations are paramount, although the interests of the player are also at the forefront.

"In this country we have to get informed consent medically before doing anything so I talk to a player. I say, 'Look, are you open to some energy healing, some reiki or something like that because right now I can't massage that because it'll make it worse'."

The physio, for instance, has the option of employing alternative methods such as acupuncture as well.

"Sometimes I'll have a player who'll come to me and say, 'Can you do some of your woo-woo [magic] stuff?'."

Hiha says she's been in the Breakers and Tall Blacks equation long enough for players to know she dabbles in "other stuff" but she's also careful she doesn't cross the boundary of assuming everyone is comfortable with it.

"And so it's always on an educated, informed basis."

A religious goal setter, she had ambitions to work with the All Blacks, New Zealand Sevens, Silver Ferns, Hockey Australia and the Black Sticks before the Breakers and Tall Blacks.

"I ticked all those boxes off in different ways."

She ended up working for Hockey Australia in a coaching capacity for a fortnight in Cairns, says the former New Zealand age-group and Maori hockey mentor.

A former Bay junior hockey, cricket and tennis representative, Hiha grabbed any opportunity to coach when injured.

"I also knew when to help people in constant pain and not just from recovery."

Hiha, who travels with the Tall Blacks to China and South Korea tomorrow for the Fiba World Cup-qualifying matches, harbours a desire to travel with the Tall Blacks to the World Cup nex year as well as the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, should they qualify.

"I don't know if I'm going to get to go but I have them as goals," says the therapist, who travelled with them to the 2014 World Cup in Spain.

Of course she's pencilled in the more immediate goal of making it to the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in April.

Wellpark College of Natural Therapies, where she teaches, is aware of her intentions with the elite basketballers.

"They support me but I can only do that because I was really clear with my goals. I have a good track record and work hard so I've managed to over the past few years get good rewards from that and tick off all the major goals that I have set."

She had watched Paul Henare play from a young age but says her mother, Marg Hiha, knows the former Tall Blacks, Breakers and Taylor Corporation Hawks captain/coach better. Marg was on the the Bay basketball committee for yonks before she was made a life member.

"Mum also represented Hawke's Bay in basketball."

She used to go to hockey tourneys to the former Centennial Hall (Rodney Green Events Centre) where she helped man the score bench while Marg played basketball, but hockey was always Hiha's No 1 sport.

Basketball has eclipsed that in the past few years, however.

"I tend to be an all-or-nothing type of person but I still follow hockey because my young nephew is in the New Zealand under-21s," she says of Sam Hiha.

Hiha massaged the Black Sticks women players for several years when the likes of Niniwa Roberts and Caryn Paewai were playing, and Mary Dunne was the physio and Kevin Towns was coach.

"I would have loved to have been massage therapist of the Black Sticks but they don't have massages in the same way we have done with the basketball franchise and Tall Blacks."

She still offers her service to visiting hockey teams during tourneys in Auckland.

"I massaged the Irish men's hockey team when they were here for three weeks for the Olympic-qualifying tournament so I still get to do that."

No doubt she would have loved to travel with the Sticks because hockey was ingrained in the Hiha family.

"I remember Mum practising hockey with Hawke's Bay when we were very little. We used to go down and stand with hockey sticks and run around chasing balls for them."

A chuckling Hiha says maybe, after she's ticked her boxes, in 2020 she would jump at the opportunity to serve the Black Sticks.

She has also got a nod to attend to tennis players at the ASB Classic in Auckland for more than a decade.