A Shannon schoolgirl with eight sisters – and one brother – first started Taekwon-Do when their mother suggested they should all learn a martial art for self-defence.
Now, Janae Whakarau, 17, has had a world title recognised at the Māori Sports Awards in Auckland last week, when she was runner-up in the top junior female category to swimmer Erika Fairweather.
Her mother Corina Whakarau said Kaysha, Shenea, Tiani, Natira, Adana, Janae, Shaniah, Pharah, Angel and their brother Taniora, the youngest, were all encouraged to take up a martial art.
“I wanted them to be street-savvy. They needed to learn self-defence…some form of martial art,” she said.
Not long after that twins sisters Shenea and Tiani were introduced to Taekwon-do by a friend at Waiopehu College, and so Janae followed along.
National titles led to a chance to represent New Zealand at the World Championships Inzell, Germany earlier this year, where she won two gold medals.
The World Championships are held every other year. It was her second World Championship. Last time she won two bronze and one silver. There were 1234 competitors at the Taekwon Do World Championships from 64 nations.
Janae, who belongs to the Southern Cross Club in Palmerston North, was the youngest competitor in the NZ team and has been doing Taekwon Do for the past eight years.
She said attending the Māori awards ceremony with her family was a great experience and they got to rub shoulders with the likes of netball coach Noeline Taurua, kayaker Lisa Carrington and All Black Aaron Smith.
But despite being a world champion and a second-dan Black Belt, Janae said Taekwon-do was now pipped as her favourite sport by basketball. She also played netball, touch football and sevens rugby.
“I still love it though,” she said.
She was also trained as a netball umpire and was travelling to Perth this week to stay with a family member and whistle a tournament there.
Corina said she felt it was important for any athlete to learn and have an appreciation of what it is like to umpire or referee the sport they are involved in.
“I believe they need to have a taste of what it is like,” she said.
Next year Janae had her sights on the Taekwon-do World Cup in Slovenia and the World Championship in Finland the following year.