Ardent New Zealand handball player Erin Roxburgh-Makea empowers young women on and off the pitch, helping them realize that they too have the skills to be leaders.
At 29, Erin Roxburgh-Makea feels like he’s finally entering his athletic heyday. But the stages in her career where she can make a real difference are only just beginning.
Roxburgh-Makea is captain of the New Zealand women’s beach handball team and a senior member of the national women’s indoor handball team. She also plays premium netball in Wellington.
She’s fitter, stronger and “a lot more confident” in herself now, especially after overcoming RED-S – a debilitating disease she lived with for three years.
All of this, and his life off the pitch has never been so busy.
Proud of her Ngāti Porou and Ngāpuhi roots, Roxburgh-Makea has almost completed her doctorate in Maori affairs. She then became a lecturer at Victoria University of Wellington.
She is also spreading her wings in governance, on the boards of the Oceania Handball Federation and Women in Sport Aotearoa, where she is already doing “world change” work.
She’s not afraid to speak up – calling for a change in international beach handball rules that require female athletes to wear revealing bikini bottoms, and instead allow women to choose what they want to wear.
With all of her experiences combined – in a short period of time – Roxburgh-Makea has become the perfect role model for encouraging young women to become leaders. Although it took him a while to realize that his desire to help and contribute was also a form of leadership.
Roxburgh-Makea continues to build his resilience. “Playing in a national team sport and doing a doctorate is a really good way to build resilience – to get all of that criticism coming in all the time,” she says.
His # 1 sport growing up didn’t involve the ball. She was “obsessed” with horseback riding and competed for 10 years. “I mainly did dressage and loved the perfection of it,” she says.
“But I quit riding in my freshman year in college, because it was a lot of engagement, so I got into netball.”
It was thanks to her husband, Willy Makea, that Roxburgh-Makea discovered handball. They met as summer interns at the New Zealand Treasury, and early in their relationship she went to see Makea, a New Zealand handball representative, play. Standing on the sidelines, she was invited to give it a go.
“I didn’t like it at first because I wasn’t good at it. I had to learn a whole new sport because the fundamentals of handball are the opposite of those of netball, ”she says.
In fact, there were times when Roxburgh-Makea was confused about the sport she was supposed to play. “Yeah, sometimes in netball I walk,” she laughs.
“The good thing is that the first netball got very physical, so I got used to it. People say handball is like a lot of touch, but I always say touch in netball is just as bad. “
She was first part of the New Zealand beach handball team in 2016 and the national indoor team two years later. The sport is still in its infancy here, but Roxburgh-Makea was part of the history of the first New Zealand handball team to play in a major international tournament, at the Asian Championships in 2018. She was planning to play in Taiwan, United States. and South Korea when the global pandemic took hold.
“But in a way it’s good for New Zealand handball that we weren’t able to go overseas – we focused on developing and growing the depth of the sport,” says she.
In March, New Zealand hosted their first National Beach Handball Championships, and Roxburgh-Makea, along with the Wellington Parrots, won the Women’s National Title, the National Mixed Title and the North vs. South Series.
“I liked beach handball a lot more because I was better at it and my netball skills were more transferable. But over the last few years I’ve become a lot more comfortable with my indoor game – I’ve started to like the contact and take responsibility for shooting.
Roxburgh-Makea is also in top form and health, after years of going through RED-S (Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport).
“I overthrew myself, I wasn’t eating enough, I had stress fractures, and I lost my period for a few years,” she says.
“I haven’t had to change a lot in my life – I eat a lot more and plan my exercise program better. Now in my netball and handball fitness tests I am with 18 year olds. Now I say to the young women: you earn meals by being alive. “
Roxburgh-Makea has taken on responsibilities off the pitch as well. Having been a board member of her netball club, Team Vic, she was invited to apply for a position on the New Zealand handball board.
“I was like ‘There are no young people here, there is no one representing our national women’s team. I guess I could go on and be that person, ”she says.
“It wasn’t until the end of my five years on the board that I realized that maybe I had skills that could be transferred to other boards, that I had been in situations that I felt like. had made it more resilient. “
So she raised her hand for a place on the board of directors of Women in Sport Aotearoa (WISPA).
“Governance is one area where you can make a lot of change and influence,” she says. “I had a great feeling with WISPA that I would be well supported and could get my hands on a job that changes the world. And I have so far – it’s been an amazing opportunity.
“One of the projects I’m tackling teeth with is the WISPA rōpū group we started – we’re almost looking at rewriting our strategy and incorporating biculturalism into it in a meaningful way. When I think of Te Ao Māori [the Māori world view] and its values and I am thinking of sport, there are some very beautiful couples.
“Sport can teach you so much about life. You have to learn to work with different people, to resist comments, to plan. For some people, sport is a refuge from what is going on around them. I hope to integrate more Te Ao Māori through this, they can bring their identity to the sport.
“I would have liked to have been encouraged to bring more of this aspect of my culture to the practice of my sport.”
Roxburgh-Makea is also involved in Whanake o te Kōpara – translated as the rise of the female bellbird – a program guiding young women aged 19 to 25 towards athletic leadership. “I’m really proud to be able to help young women with action plans of things they are going to do in their communities,” she says.
She hopes that next week’s Sport NZ Women + Girls online summit, which WISPA is helping organize, will encourage kōhine (young women) to recognize the skills they have that can be used in leadership roles.
“People say they want more rangatahi [young people] on the boards, but there is a gap because a lot of rangatahi think they don’t have the skills to be leaders. In fact, there are a lot of young people doing amazing things and they would definitely have the skills to take up positions of influence, ”she says.
“They just don’t know these skills are valuable. They don’t see that the things they do every day for their sport community or their marae are governance on the pitch. I think I was in a similar situation.
“So I hope a lot of young people will watch and feel inspired by the things they are doing in their own backyards.”
Roxburgh-Makea is just a few months away from completing her doctorate, where she is studying governance in Maori organizations.
Originally, she was drawn to business studies, she says, because she was “obsessed with making money and doing business … During my undergraduate years, I always thought about different things. companies that I wanted to start, which were really competitive ”.
A scholarship to attend a Maori business conference in 2014 showed her how Maori values can be used in business and inspired her to pursue her doctoral studies there.
Soon she will assume a lecturing role at Victoria University in Maori business articles of special interest.
“It’s a bit of a dream come true,” she says. “I hope everything will suit my active lifestyle; balancing being an amateur athlete with work is difficult. If I had a nine to five job, I wouldn’t be able to do all of these things.
* The Sport NZ Women + Girls Summit, hosted by Women in Sport Aotearoa and The Shift Foundation, is a one-day online event on Wednesday, September 29. You can register here.