Monday 7 March 2022 9:00am
Toloa scholarship recipient Iokopeta Tobeck wants to help Pacific peoples the best way she knows how – by breaking down barriers to exercise for her community.
The Ministry of Pacific Peoples Toloa Tertiary Scholarship will support her ongoing study for a Bachelor of Science majoring in Physical Education, Activity and Health, but Iokopeta’s love of exercise began much earlier.
“Growing up, Mum and Dad would make us go on bike rides or hikes,” she says. “I learned quickly that exercise made me feel good.”
When Iokopeta was at Rosehill College in Auckland – where she was Head Girl, Head of the Events Comittee, and involved in the Pacific Committee – she relied on exercise to maintain balance.
“It became my passion and I wanted to learn about why exercise makes us feel good and how it affects our bodies.”
Finding her calling
At the University of Otago, that passion turned into purpose as she realised what exercise could do for her community.
“Promoting physical exercise in the Pacific space interests me because of our mental health and obesity statistics. Physical activity is really important for us.”
Iokopeta would like to use her degree to become a physical activity consultant for Pacific peoples. This involves organising activities that make exercise enjoyable and accessible for those who have been prescribed exercise by their doctor.
“I want to show clients that this is achievable for them, that they can fit it in on top of a busy work schedule, or on top of having heaps of family.”
She says the trick is “understanding that the small changes matter”.
“My lecturer would say ‘if you’re going to use the elevator to go up to class, then you have to take the stairs down’.
“The idea behind that is, if you’re going to give yourself a break, make sure you compensate for it somewhere else.”
Back to basics
When COVID-19 restrictions forced gyms to close, Iokopeta was inspired by other people’s creativity when it came to exercise.
“During Lockdown I would see people exercising on playground equipment, using whatever was available. That stuff is free.
“There are families out there that have to use their money on the basics, a gym membership might not be an option,” she says.
“I want to encourage people to make use of the outdoors. We don’t need gym memberships.”
Iokopeta inherited her passion for serving her community from her Manihikian mother, a midwife who helps other Pacific women get their midwifery qualification.
“Mum has had midwives [who] come as students, have then worked alongside her, and are now helping other Pacific midwives,” Iokopeta says.
“I think it’s a cool cycle. She’s seen the people she’s helped, help others. I think that’s so rewarding. It’s something I’d like to be able to do.”
Iokopeta came to Otago to honour her papa, who studied at Otago in the 1960s and stayed at Arana College.
“His love of learning was his legacy. No matter what I’m doing, I always want opportunities to learn. That would make him proud.”