Sportsman of the Year awarded to martial arts champion

Auckland Law School student Riley Phillips-Harris, has been honoured with two University of Auckland Blues Awards. The awards are a prestigious tradition that recognise students who have excelled in sport, the arts and culture, and service and leadership.

Riley collects his awards assisted by his mum Suzanne.

The 24-year-old taekwondo champion received the award for Sportsman of the Year as well as Most Meritorious Performance in Sport. It is the third time he has won Sportsman of the Year.

Riley, who started taekwondo when he was 11 years old, competed in and won the ITF World Cup in September 2018 in Sydney, Australia, and was ranked number one in the world for the 78kg sparring category.

The Bachelor of Laws student trains an average of 15-20 hours a week, with more time required closer to competitions. On top of his tertiary study and martial arts training, Riley also works in film and television as a stunt man.

“It's a wonderful career, despite the occasional trips to the emergency room. It is varied, physically demanding and exciting work. One day you are a gladiator, the next a soldier and all manner of things in between.

"You have to stay very fit and constantly be learning new skills, which is what I love. The risk factor makes it that little bit more exciting but the goal is to do the risky things in a safe manner. I've been lucky enough to work on many great projects both at home and overseas like Mortal Engines, Avatar 2 and 3, the Shannara Chronicles and a bunch of other films and television series,” he says.

Riley performs stunts on a movie set

He concedes that it is quite hard balancing fulltime study with training and film work. “The film industry is very intense often requiring me to pick up and move to some far off location for long periods of time on very short notice. But it is addictive and New Zealand is fast becoming one of the top locations to film for all sorts of foreign productions. There are great projects ahead I would love to work on,” he says.

But Riley intends to put his stunt work on hold for a year or two as shortly he’s moving to Sydney to take up a job with international law firm Allen & Overy.

It’s a far cry from Riley’s early life on a self-sufficient farm in a rural area of the Bay of Islands. “We had no electricity and me and my sister concocted all sorts of hair-brained adventures to keep ourselves entertained – some safe, others not. Occasionally we had to be rescued. I think that’s where some of my thrill-seeking interests come from,” he says.

Now in the final months of completing his dissertation as part of his undergraduate degree, Riley says enrolling at university to study law was a last minute decision.

I’ve always loved reading and although I hate to admit it, arguing too. Once I started studying law I began to see how it touches all aspects of society.

Riley Phillips-Harris

“I’ve always loved reading and although I hate to admit it, arguing too. Once I started studying law I began to see how it touches all aspects of society.”

Riley acknowledges that the global demand for stunt-performing lawyers isn’t high. But he’s keeping his long-term plans open. “I’ve never been much of a planner. I intend to follow my feet and see where they take me.”

Listen to Riley on 95bFM.

See the full list of winners. 

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