12 September 2018
Former Hawke’s Bay man Ihaka Matairangi stood and cried in Canada last year, as he watched a man with no arms and no legs compete in the Invictus Games Toronto 1500m event.
Petty Officer Ihaka Matairangi, one of four NZDF Invictus Games team members who have had cancer, holds daffodils for Daffodil Day 2018
“By the time he was finished I was crying. I couldn’t believe how proud I was of this man I didn’t even know,” Royal New Zealand Navy Petty Officer Matairangi, a member of this year’s NZDF Invictus Games team, said.
“For those few moments when they’re running that race and crossing that line, you see people just glow. It is magic.”
The Invictus Games are the only international adaptive sporting event for wounded, injured and ill active duty and former service members. This year’s event, in Sydney from 20-27 October, will involve competitors from 18 allied nations in 11 different adaptive sports.
Petty Officer Matairangi took team bronze in the archery at the Toronto Invictus Games and he’ll compete in the event again in Sydney, as well as in sailing and discus. But he’s quick to point out that the Games are not about medals.
“Just getting to the starting line is a win for some of the competitors. You just get total acceptance as soon as you walk through the door. Everyone on that level is the same – you’ve got so much commonality because of the experiences and the life-changing events that have happened to each individual.”
Petty Officer Matairangi’s life-changing event came in his mid-20s, when he was diagnosed with lung and testicular cancer. It has left him with significantly reduced lung capacity, and it took him several years to get back to the level of fitness required by the Navy.
He needs every bit of that fitness in his day-to-day life – he and wife Emma are parents to Tyler, 8, Nate, 5, and Mia, 2, and all will go to Sydney to watch him compete.
His parents, Errol and Annette, still live in his boyhood stomping ground of Flaxmere, and his father went to Toronto with him – something he describes as incredibly special.Petty Officer Matairangi’s brothers Joshua, Rongomai and Jay Pomana still live in Hawke’s Bay, while sisters Tahlya and Vida are in Australia and Wellington respectively.
The six Matairangi siblings were among 20 cousins who grew up together in the Hastings area and Petty Officer Matairangi, who went to Flaxmere Primary and St John’s College, said some of his best memories were of the time he spent with them at Fantasyland.
“We were always together, which is something I treasure. The weather was always hot, so I was either at the beach, river or pool and playing sports,” he said.
That love of sport continues, and he said the Invictus Games had given him a better quality of life through sport and fitness.
“I’m now the fittest I have been in 10 years. I won’t ever be how I was before treatment but I’m definitely in a better place, physically and mentally.”
This year’s Invictus Games is being presented by Jaguar Land Rover. The NZDF team is sponsored by Auckland RSA, Christchurch Memorial RSA, Fulton Hogan, Jaguar Land Rover and Direct Sport.
Throughout the Games the team’s journey can be followed on:
NZDF Invictus Team Facebook: facebook.com/NZInvictusTeam
NZDF Invictus Team Instagram: @NZInvictusTeam
NZDF Twitter: @nzdefenceforce