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Aitutaki Liftoff aims to become South Pacific’s biggest fitness festival

Friday 2 September 2022 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Features

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Aitutaki Liftoff aims to become South Pacific’s biggest fitness festival
Jamie Gotty wins the women’s weightlifting event. PC. MELANIE COOPER. 22090205

The Aitutaki Liftoff – the island’s biggest fitness festival – kicked off its all-inclusive event that promotes health and wellness for everyone, last weekend.

Set in the world’s most beautiful blue lagoon and piece of paradise, 65 people participated in the event (August 26-27) in the ultimate test of strength, endurance, functional fitness and teamwork in the individual weightlifting competition and four-person team challenge.

The Aitutaki Liftoff was established in 2021 by founder and organiser Dani Adendorff who said this year’s event “was a great success”.

This year’s event was much bigger in terms of spectators and participants for both of the competition events, “a positive sign that the event is growing with every new year,” said Adendorff.

The youth teams who participated in the fitness challenge included Team Bumble Bees - Enrique Joseph, Teraeuna Tuakeu, Cassandra Meanu’u, Tereora Ngatokorua and Team Stonefish Boys - Travel Ngatamariki, Rio Pureariki, Kuramaeva Tare, Mama Tuaine Rita, as well as the Team Orange Pickers from Rarotonga.

Adendorff said the focus of the Aitutaki Liftoff has always been to get the local community to be active and to encourage a healthy culture of health and wellness.

“So seeing our college students getting amongst the action is very promising, because that's where real change occurs for our future generations. We will continue to promote our youth category going into 2023, and we hope to have a firmly established category with multiple teams in next year's event,” she said.

For the first time water events were introduced, namely the oe vaka sprint race, and the mini team triathlon and log race.

The vaka event turned out to be a firm favourite this year, throwing a new element into the mix and utilising the stunning blue lagoon of Aitutaki.

In good sporting spirit, experienced paddlers mixed among the novice paddlers to give the newcomers a “time to shine”. This was something different from other strength and endurance movements we have previously featured in our challenges, said Adendorff.

The events are programmed with the intention of testing all facets of fitness, from strength, agility, speed and endurance, to teamwork, timing and coordination, she explained.

“This broad spectrum approach to selecting movements ensures there is something for everyone at the Aitutaki Liftoff.”

Twelve lifters took to the stage for Friday night's weightlifting competition and 12 x 4 person teams registered for the team challenge on Saturday.

The weightlifting competition was taken out by Rarotonga-based weightlifter and Tumuora CrossFit coach Jamie Gotty (Female category), and Aydan Poko, a New Zealand-based athlete and owner of Crossfit Papamoa.

Gotty was a “last minute” entry in the weightlifting event; a first timer in the event, she stepped up to compete since more competitors were needed and to encourage more to join the sport and promote it.

Seeing the raw young athletic talent of 16-year-old Aitutakian boy Teariki, was one of the highlights for Gotty.

There could definitely be prospects for the youth from Aitutaki in the future, said Gotty.

“This event will definitely continue to grow and it’s also a good family fitness event where parents can be a good role model for their kids,” Gotty said. Her own two young children also participated in the challenges.

Aydan Poko’s partner Rebecca Biss took out second place in the female weightlifting category, with the lady herself Dani Adendorff coming in third place.

In second place for the men was New Zealand-based athlete. Cook Islander Sam Manuela, and in third place was Aitutaki weightlifter Iotua Orika.

Getting into the competitive teams’ events held on Saturday, there was fierce contention for the three top spots between Team Hustle & Muscle (Local Aitutaki team from FuncFit Araura), Team Magic (local mixed team) and Team Sparkles (New Zealand/Rarotonga).

All three teams were tied after four events and going into the final workout Team Sparkles took the win leaving Hustle & Muscle and Team Magic in a dead tie for second place after five events.

Adendorff was pleased to see a decent turnout of over 70 people at the lifting event on the Friday evening which was held at the Aitutaki Fishing Club, and over 100 spectators made the trip to Ootu last Saturday to support the team challenges.

“I wanted to ensure we offered our locals an event which appealed to the entire family,” said Adendorff, who welcomed local vendors to set up shop at the event site, a local masseuse and the Baxter’s Ice Cream truck - all of which took place at the blue water’s edge, making a perfect day out for the whole family.

Locals turned up in large numbers to support their friends and families – it was fantastic to see the event bring the community together in that way, she said.

Another highlight for Adendorff was seeing how the weekend brought the Aitutaki community together. People from all walks of life, fitness backgrounds and different places coming together with the same purpose in mind – to challenge themselves and to try something new.

“I am sure many walked away with an undeniable sense of achievement after seeing what they were capable of doing over the course of the weekend.”

Looking ahead to the Aitutaki Liftoff 2023, three more categories will be introduced: a youth division, a beginner’s category, and advanced category.

Aitutaki Liftoff has received an overwhelming number of enquiries from New Zealand based athletes looking to book in for 2023. Travel packages for these athletes including domestic flights and accommodation will be offered.

Adendorff’s primary objective in creating the event is to grow it into the biggest fitness festival in the South Pacific, and after this year’s event she believes they are on track.

Aitutaki Liftoff and Adendorff would like to acknowledge and thank Cook Islands Tourism for their phenomenal support and Prime Foods – both have been firm major sponsors since the beginning.  

Local businesses in Aitutaki – Spiders, Tamanu, Aitutaki Sports Association, Stonefish Studios, and Sailing Aitutaki – also banded together to help sponsor a number of local teams including the youth teams.

And other sponsors including Air Rarotonga who offered competitors a domestic flight discount, making the event more accessible to New Zealand and Rarotonga-based competitors.

“I am so grateful and appreciative for all their generous contributions to our event,” Adendorff said.

The team events results are as follows. 1st Team Sparkles - Sam Manuela, Jamie Gotty, Aydan Poko, Rebecca Biss; 2nd Equal - Team Hustle & Muscle - Jacob Saunders, Tayne Taurua, Teariki-Mana Vaa-Taputoa, Mihi Taurua, and Team Magic - Martin Stetka, Mike Bilhem, Bronwyn Mataiti and Pamela Williams.

The weightlifting results are as follows. Females: 1st Jamie Gotty Total 134kg, Sinclair 167.864; 2nd Rebecca Biss Total 142kg, Sinclair 160.998; 3rd Daniella Adendorff  Total 115kg, Sinclair 139.536.     Male: 1st Ayden Poko Total 280kg, Sinclair 298.759; 2nd Sam Manuela Total 235kg, Sinclair 271.197; 3rd Joshua Orika Total 210kg, Sinclair: 228.04. Juniors 1st Teariki Vaa-Taputoa Total 127kg, Sinclair 156.584.