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Dan Ninham
Special to Indian Country Today

Violette Perry’s Indigenous values have driven her into an elite world of athletic competition.

The Māori woman from New Zealand — who now attends Yale University where she competes in water polo and track and field — told Indian Country Today that her core values have defined her training and competition.

“In Te Ao Māori, a holistic view of health and well-being known as hauora is paramount,” she said recently. “Hauora comprises taha tinana (physical well-being), taha hinengaro (mental and emotional well-being), taha whanau (social well-being), and taha wairua (spiritual well-being).

“The values of hauora have played an integral part in enabling me to achieve and succeed,” she said. “I have always placed an importance in all aspects of my life to be well-rounded, not just to focus on athletic success.”

Perry, who is Ngāi Tahu, was among the honorees this year of the Māori Sports Awards, where she received the Skills Active Māori Sports Awards scholarship.

But sports are not her only focus, she said.

“I have placed equal importance on my academic study,” she said, “and I play a number of musical instruments, as music has been an important outlet for me to unwind.”

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Also honored recently by the Māori Sports Awards are Jane Maxwell Te Hira, Ngāpuhi NZOM, the first woman to represent New Zealand in three different sports by participating in basketball, softball and hockey in the 1950s; and Lisa Carrington, Te Aitanga ā Māhaki and Ngāti Porou, who was named the Albie Pryor Memorial Māori Sportsperson of the Year in December 2021.

Carrington is New Zealand’s most successful Olympian, having won six Olympic medals in canoe racing, including multiple medals in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The Māori Sports Awards, handed out by the Te Tohu Taakaro o Aotearoa Charitable Trust in a December television special, has awarded more than 400 sports and educational scholarships totaling nearly $525,000 in U.S. dollars since 1994. Past recipients have gone on to become world champion athletes, competing in World, Commonwealth and Olympic games.

Ivy League competition

Perry, of Christchurch, New Zealand, began participating in track and field at age 7 with a passion for throwing events. Now 18, she holds multiple Canterbury, South Island and national records and titles in discus and javelin, and is a two-time national champion in discus.

She has been in the Top 20 IAAF World Ranking in U18 Women’s Discus Throw, and she was named to the New Zealand FINA World Championship Junior Women’s Water Polo Squad, though the tournament was cancelled because of COVID-19.

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She was a two-time National High School Discus Champion, and has been a multiple medalist in the National Club Championships in discus, shot put, and javelin. She has been a member of the New Zealand track and field team, and is a three-time New Zealand Club Champion in water polo.

In 2020, she was recruited by six of the eight Ivy League colleges in the United States for both water polo and athletics, and ultimately accepted a place at Yale.

At Yale, she trains three times a week and practices club water polo with the Yale men’s team.

“Practicing spiritual well-being through mindfulness and meditation helps me to deal with all the aspects of life as a student-athlete that I cannot control such as injuries, competition failure, team selections, and dealing with individuals who do not have your best interests,” she said.

“Sport can be ruthless, and you need to be able to mentally cope with the tough aspects. The concept of hauora helps me to understand that being a student-athlete does not solely define me as an individual.”

Māori athlete Violette Perry of New Zealand is drawing attention at Yale University in shot put where she is already closing in on university records. Perry, Ngāi Tahu, was among the honorees in December 2021 of the Māori Sports Awards, where she received the Skills Active Māori Sports Awards scholarship. (Photo by Brad Ahern, courtesy of Yale University Athletics)

Her throws coach at Yale is Duke Taylor, a three-time NCAA DII First Team All-American at Malone University and an NCAA DII discus national champion.

“Violette had a very solid fall semester with training,” Taylor told Indian Country Today. “She hadn't thrown shot put much prior to Yale, yet in her first-ever collegiate meet she impressively threw the ninth best mark in program history at 12.61 meters. She will be a force once we transition to outdoor season, particularly in discus and javelin.”

He continued, “She is projected to be Top 3 in the discus in the Ivy League and has the potential to qualify for both the NCAA East Regional meet as well as the NCAA National meet.”

“On top of this, I could see her breaking our discus record in her first year here. She is a very rare talent and will be a huge contributor to our team in conference competition over the next four years.”

She is also a "pleasure" to work with, he said.

“Not only is she an incredible athlete and thrower, but she brings a great attitude to practice and shows constant support for her teammates,” he said.

Empowering Indigenous athletes

Perry said her elder sister, Adelaide, has been an important role model and mentor for her.

“She is always the first person I turn to for advice,” Perry said. “Adelaide was also an all-rounder, and she is currently studying to be a surgeon at medical school in New Zealand. Outside of excelling academically, she also had national achievements in performing arts and sport.”

Adelaide Tigerlily Perry offers equal praise for her sister.

“Violette always impresses me with her hardworking, goal-oriented mindset,” she told Indian Country Today. “She has this amazing capability to achieve success in so many aspects of her life, but does so with a quiet confidence and humility.”

Indigenous Yale University athlete Violette Perry, right, says her sister, Adelaide Perry, left, has helped her succeed in athletics and academics. Perry was honored in December 2021 by the Māori Sports Awards with a scholarship. She competes in water polo and track and field events at Yale. (Photo courtesy of Violette Perry)

She continued, “Violette is an inspiration and leader for our whanau (family), friends, and the Māori community. With a wisdom beyond her years and a strong commitment to our Indigenous community, we are all excited to follow Violette’s journey in both her sports, education and beyond.

“Violette is a strong, steadfast powerhouse who I know will do great things to help empower Māori and other Indigenous communities alike. I look forward to watching her journey, and am proud to be her sister.”

For now, Perry is focused on what’s ahead.

“Prior to COVID-19, I had the opportunity to represent New Zealand at an age group level in tournaments in Australia,” said Perry. “My short-term goal is to represent Yale in track and field at the NCAA Division I National Championships.

“Long term, I would ideally like to represent New Zealand in track and field and/or water polo at a World University Games and a World Championships.”

Other athletes honored
The Māori Sports Awards also recognized New Zealand’s Indigenous Olympics and Paralympics medalists in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics during the December 2021 televised awards event.
Women’s rugby sevens team, gold
Gayle​ Broughton, Ngāti Ruanui/Ngāruahine
Stacey Fluhler, Ngāi Tūhoe
Sarah Hirini,​ Ngāti Kahungunu Ki te Wairoa
Shiray​ Kaka, Ngāti Maniapoto
Tyla Nathan-Wong, Ngāpuhi
Risi Pouri-Lane, Ngāti Kuia/Ngāi Tahu/Ngāti Kōata
Portia​ Woodman, Ngāpuhi
Women’s kayak, single, 200 meters and 500 meters, gold and double, 500 meters, gold
Lisa Carrington, Ngāti Porou/Te Aitanga ā Māhaki
Women’s pair rowing, gold and double sculls, silver
Kerri Gowler, Rangitāne
Women’s eight rowing, silver
Kelsey Bevan, Ngāpuhi
Kerri Gowler, Rangitāne
Jackie Gowler, Rangitāne
Caleb​ Shepherd, Ngāti Porou
Men’s rugby sevens team, silver
Kurt Baker, Ngāpuhi
Dylan​ Collier, Whakatōhea
Andrew Knewstubb, Ngāpuhi
Ngarohi McGarvey, Ngāi Tūhoe
Regan​ Ware, Ngāti Porou ki Harataunga ki Mataora/Ngāti Korokī Kahukura
Joe Webber, Ngāti Ranginui
William Warbrick, Ngāti Rangitihi, Ngāti Awa
Men’s eights rowing, gold
Michael Brake, Ngāti Porou
Para Javelin, gold
Holly Robinson, Ngāi Tahu

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