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Running with the ball

Anika Tiplady balances the demands of her medical studies with a career in the New Zealand Defence Force and success as a representative rugby player.

University of Otago Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery student Anika Tiplady likes a challenge, which is just as well, as the fourth-year student successfully balances top-level sport commitments with the demands of studying medicine and a part-time military career.

At the 2013 University of Otago Blue and Gold awards Anika received a University Blue and was named Sports Woman and Māori Sportsperson of the Year.

While she will continue to balance competitive sport with study, the fourth-year MB ChB student says working towards a career in medicine is now a priority.

“Medicine is a natural progression from my first love, the sciences.” [In 2003 she graduated with a Bachelor of Science majoring in physiology and anatomy and structural biology]. I enrolled again for a challenge and, while I was initially very apprehensive, I love it.

"When you are 30 and you change career it can be daunting, but the last few years at Otago have confirmed that it was absolutely the right decision. There is a broad spectrum of ages, and people from different backgrounds and ethnic groups studying and I've found my classmates very supportive – it helps to know you are not alone studying a demanding, yet rewarding, course.”

She has also enjoyed assisting several students with course work through the University's Te Roopu Māori mentoring programme. Another associated organisation which has provided numerous positives for Anika, who is of Ngāi Tahu descent, is Te Oranga ki Otakou – the University of Otago Māori Medical Students' Association.

“All the Māori students in our class get together. We share notes and it's a supportive environment. I've also taken a lot from Te Oranga where we meet medical students from other campuses to broaden networks.”

Anika believes her time in the New Zealand Defence Force helped her develop the skills necessary for academic success. After secondary school, she joined the Army and gained her first degree at Otago through an Army scholarship. She then completed officer training before serving for eight years in the regular Army.

During a 2011 deployment to the Middle East, she gained first-hand insight into the complexities of not only the culture, but also the multiple sources of conflict in the region.

As part of a multinational United Nations force she was tasked with observing peace agreements between Israel, Syria and Lebanon by monitoring a zone of separation between Syria and the (Israeli) occupied Golan.

“We were there strictly as observers. Syria was calm for a very long time and then the internal political situation became increasingly turbulent. We saw more weapons and vehicles deployed in certain areas by the Syrian Army inside their own borders, which was no threat to us, but was for the rebels. It was a very interesting mission and fantastic opportunity – there is such a depth of history there that is beyond comprehension.”

She plans to continue in her current role as an Army reservist captain.

In addition to success in the Army, Anika is an equally talented sportsperson.

Like many of her family members, she enjoyed competitive sport from an early age but, in 2000, she became the “random apple that fell far from the tree” by being the first to take up rugby. The game's on-field intensity and the team environment appealed to her competitive nature. Her skill and dedication has seen her develop into a utility back who prefers wing or fullback positions.

In the past decade she has progressed from club to representative level and has captained the Otago Women's NPC team. Other career highlights include playing for the Otago Spirit for three years from 2001 to 2003. During her time in the Army she played representative rugby for Manawatu and Canterbury, and had a season playing club rugby in England. More recently she was selected for the New Zealand Black Ferns tour of England in 2009 and 2012, and played against Australia in 2007.

“Touring is tough, especially the three games against England, but playing at the top level is also a great test of how far you've come. After more than a decade I felt it was time to hang up the boots after the 2012 tour. But I couldn't stay away and rejoined Otago for the 2013 season – we finished third in the women's National Provincial Championship.”

Adamant that her days of top-level rugby are finally over, Anika plans to redirect her energies into competitive track cycling and rugby sevens.

She says that her experiences in sports, the military and academic life have all helped form a straightforward personal philosophy.

“You have to be prepared to knuckle down in order to succeed.”


Photo: Alan Dove

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