When a hobby becomes a passion it can take a lot of money, time and sacrifice to truly dedicate your life to it. Whether competing at an elite level, or an obsession driven solely by fun, these four athletes from are dedicated to their chosen sports. They spoke to Amberleigh Jack about how they discovered their love of their sport, and why they keep at it.
The dancer: Audrey Roberts
The dream: To dance professionally
The work: Four hours a day, five days a week
When you ask 14-year-old Audrey Roberts what her future holds, there is no hesitation.
“I want to be a professional dancer,” she says.
Roberts’ favourite styles of dance are lyrical and contemporary, but she also learns ballet, jazz and musical theatre dance at Auckland’s Studio 246.
She dances for four hours a day, five days a week. On Saturdays, she has private lessons and many Sundays (and sometimes Saturdays) are reserved for competition.
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“I’ve definitely made sacrifices for dancing, but it’s definitely worth it because I love what I do.”
She has loved it since she was five years old.
“I love going to dance and seeing all my friends. Most of my closest friends are in dance and they always make me happy.”
When she was 10, Roberts was selected to dance in the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker, and she has been an associate at the New Zealand School of Dance since 2021. She travels to Wellington to train at the school five times a year, and hopes to train there fulltime after high school.
She began competition dancing at 9, as part of a dance troupe, and as a solo dancer at 10. Now she competes with seven troupes, and as a soloist.
Roberts has little time for a social life, and weeknights after training are spent winding down and getting ready for the next day.
“It’s really hard to fit in getting my homework done,” she says.
“I’ve definitely got to focus when I’ve got a little bit of time to do that. I try to keep Sundays free, but they’re not usually free,” she says.
“My family is very supportive, and it’s hard because we don’t usually get family time together that often. It’s usually me and my mum going to competition or to training.”
Roberts’ mum Jacqui is the designated dance “taxi driver” and spends most weekends with her daughter at competitions or exams. She admits there are some long hours involved.
“We’re very proud of her dedication,” she says.
The Runner: Dom Harvey
The dream: Finish an ultra marathon
The work: Running 70-100 kilometres a week
It wasn’t until he was in his 30s that former radio host Dom Harvey started running seriously. He ran as a child, but when he took it up as an adult, it was entirely about aesthetics.
Now 49, Harvey has a coach, runs 70km-100km a week, and when asked if he is obsessed, he doesn’t think too hard before answering, “yes, I think so”.
“[I started] purely for vanity reasons. I got quite big – like 110kg,” Harvey says.
At first he would go for a few short runs and step straight on the scale, disappointed that the weight wasn’t coming off.
“Somewhere along the line I ended up enjoying the process of running itself, and it didn’t seem torturous any more.”
Harvey has run plenty of marathons, but now has his sights set on finishing an ultra marathon: a marathon longer than 42km.
He is hoping to run the 60km Kepler Challenge, in Fiordland, in December. To prepare, he won’t increase the intensity of his training, but the event will test his mental fortitude.
“When you’re physically fit enough, [running that distance] becomes a mental game.”
He has already completed the World Marathon Majors, six marathons around the world – Boston, New York, London, Tokyo, Berlin and Chicago.
“When you do them, they’re special events on their own. You get a medal at the end. When you’ve done all six you get a super medal,” he says.
It is not too hard to build the body up to comfortably run a marathon distance, especially if you are not worried about speed, Harvey says. The most difficult part of the Majors is the travel cost, whether it is really worth the $50,000.
To him, it was. And he got his 70-year-old mother hooked as well. She has run five of the six, with just the Boston Marathon to go. She will do it once Covid travel restrictions have eased up, Harvey says.
Harvey is not training for speed or specific personal bests these days.
To increase your speed, you need to do “longer runs at faster speeds”, and that type of training is no longer something he thinks is worth the effort.
So he runs for fun. His enjoyment comes from putting on music and a podcast, and running at his own pace.
There are days he doesn’t enjoy it, but he’s “obsessed with how it makes me feel”.
When he first started, Harvey had various injuries, often from pushing through minor niggles.
These days he has learnt to listen to his body more. He will take a rest when his body calls for it, and has recently taken up strength and resistance training to help prevent injury.
“At my age, if I want to keep running I’ve got to be smart about it,” he says.
The CrossFitter: Madeline Shelling
The dream: A podium finish at the World CrossFit Games in August
The work: Four hours a day, five days a week
For Madeline Shelling, chasing her CrossFit dream meant delaying completing her PhD and relocating to Christchurch.
Auckland was too expensive to live in while dedicating her life to training, and Christchurch was home to the gym and people she wanted to train with.
“It’s completely consuming but, for me, it’s only for the next couple of years, so I want to put the effort in now,” she says.
Shelling, 28, works out at CrossFit Selwyn, four hours a day, five days a week, and says her CrossFit team – with Marnie Sykes and brothers Luke and Ben Fowler – may be “the best team Oceania’s ever had”.
The foursome placed fourth out of 370 teams worldwide last month, in the first qualifying round for the CrossFit Games, the sport’s version of a world championship, putting Shelling on track for her dream result: being part of the first New Zealand team to reach the podium at a CrossFit Games. The semifinals are in Australia in May, and the finals are in the United States in August.
CrossFit competition is a combination of intense cardio, gymnastics and weightlifting strength.
Each day, Shelling will switch between strength work – squats, deadlifts – longer conditioning work on cardio machines, and skills work using a gymnastics bar or handstand obstacle walks.
Traditional CrossFit workouts last 6-20 minutes and combine numerous repetitions of 2-3 movements at high speeds.
Shelling’s days off aren’t what others might consider days off. She is not in the gym, but is preparing her body to get back in it. It is called active recovery and she will hit the pool or find other ways to “keep the body moving” on these days.
“As soon as I don’t go to the gym, I get very anxious,” she says.
She spends her downtime stretching, relaxing her muscles with a foam roller and massage gun, sleeping, and “eating lots of food”.
To have the energy to get through takes a lot of carbs, Shelling says. She works with a nutritionist and eats about 2500 calories a day.
As a teen, Shelling struggled with disordered eating and refused to eat rice. She laughs that now rice is a major component of most of her meals.
“The myth is [that] CrossFitters eat a lot of protein, [but] we need more carbs because we use a lot of energy,” she says.
Her muscular physique does not allow her to wear “normal girl clothes” but she has learnt to view that as a positive thing.
“I’m this way because I can do this many muscle-ups.”
Even if she doesn’t reach her ultimate goal, Shelling says the journey, the hard work and the dedication have been worth it.
“I always wanted to be an elite athlete,” she says. “I am living that dream I wanted.”
The hula hooper: Chad Hyndman
The dream: To be entertaining
The work: One hour’s practice every day
Chad Hyndman discovered hula hooping in his 20s. A friend was learning to hula hoop and took Hyndman, now 31, to watch her friends perform in Wellington.
He laughed at the idea at first, but “was blown away” when the performers started hula hooping with fire.
“That really tickled my fancy,” he says.
After a small detour learning poi, another style of what is known as flow art, Hyndman took up the hoops.
“It became a bit of an obsession, to be honest.”
He picked up the basics within a couple of months, but says becoming skilled at hula hooping takes significant practice. He finds if he is not strict with his training, which he does for one hour every day after work, his skills “drop off”.
Hyndman’s training sessions get broken down into parts. He will work with a single hoop for 30 minutes, before moving onto practising with two hoops for another 30 minutes. The last part of his daily routine is spent “playing around” with three or four hoops.
About four years ago, he also incorporated fire spinning, where wicks are attached to the hoop and set alight, into his routine. He meets weekly, weather permitting, with a club in Wellington predominantly for fire spinners to get together to practice.
Hula hooping has improved his reaction time and co-ordination in daily life, he says, but ultimately he performs because he loves it.
He does not compete in hula hooping, but has performed at festivals and taught it in the past.
“I just do it because I love it. I like to share the skills I have with other people, and to be able to inspire people is important to me,” he says.
He has considered monetising his hula hooping, but he fears that doing so would take some of the joy he feels when performing.
“I love it as a hobby, and I think once it’s monetised it’s different.”
That is not to say hooping hasn’t taken him places. Or perhaps, that he hasn’t taken hooping places.
“I’ve hula hooped in lots of places around the world,” he says, including the United Kingdom and The Netherlands.
Hyndman regularly runs and works out, on top of his hoop training. All of those aspects of his life helps when it comes to practising, and performing, he says.
“It takes a lot of time, and a lot of patience.”