top of page

Former league star expands mental health service after securing grant

Te Ahikaa Trotman

A former professional sportsman is expanding his mental health service after pitching for a grant in a Shark Tank-style setting.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Internal Strength is a Māori hauora (health) start-up business established by former Auckland Warriors and Kiwis league player Paul Whatuira, who now has plans to expand thanks to a Toi Te Huta grant.

Whatuira’s business was one of four Māori and Pasifika start-up businesses which received Toi Te Huta grants through Pae Rangi, the first Indigenous Social Enterprise Forum held in Tāmaki Makaurau-Auckland last month.

The businesses range from wellness experience providers to a multimedia company amplifying indigenous female voices and stories.

The presentation at Te Whānau o Waipareira in Henderson recognised Harmony Huntington (Aria Collections), Whatuira (Internal Strength), Qianne Matata-Sipu (Qiane&Co / Nuku for Women) and Kayla Gordine (Āwhina Wellness).

The businesses had to pitch for the grant, Shark Tank-style, to a panel of judges.

Whatuira - who has Māori and Cook Island heritage - and his wife Lana run their business from Tāmaki Makaurau-Auckland.

Whatuira has been working in the Māori hauora space since 2018.

He says it is “for people who just need a little bit of guidance and understanding that it is their birthright to self-confidence”.

Whatuira now wants to expand Internal Strength outside of Tamaki Makaurau.

“I would love this programme to be able to visit all regions of the country.

“We have 10 awesome ambassadors that do some mahi [work] with us and it’d be great to have 20 or 30 mana Māori leaders who can share their own stories, the values and tools as well as our own modules to be able to support our people all over the country.

“To receive this grant from Pae Rangi, it’s going to help us evolve.

“It’s gonna help us market our online presence and promote it, make sure that we are able to support our tauira [students], not just live but online.”

Whatuira says the purpose of this course is to help young Māori back on track and into the work or study forces.

Recipients (from left) Paul Whatuira, Kayla Gordine, Harmony Huntington, Qiane Matata-Sipu, (judge) Trina Tamati and acting director Of Te Pae Herenga, Brad Norman. (NZME)

“We’ve had tauira (students) come in and do a complete u-turn on their life”.

Whatuira got into the hauora support field after several years of personal battles.

Although he achieved success in league, with two NRL Premierships and multiple Kiwis caps, Whatuira was fighting demons behind closed doors.

In 2009, while in England, Whatuira was arrested and underwent a psychiatric assessment after allegedly assaulting two men.

Due to his mental health at the time, he was not charged.

He eventually overcame five years of crippling depression, psychotic episodes, mental hospital lockdowns, and medications.

A big part of his recovery was the te ao Māori hauora approach.

Hauora focuses on physical, mental/emotional, social and spiritual wellbeing.

Hero Image: Paul Whatuira (top) pictured during his professional league days playing for the Wests Tigers, tackling New Zealand Warrior Logan Swann in a 2007 NRL match at Mt Smart Stadium. (Kenny Rodger/NZME)

bottom of page