Madeline Shelling

PhD student, Madeline, is said to be New Zealand’s fittest woman after taking home the 2020 Crossfit National Championship.

Tell us a little about yourself – how did you get into Crossfit? What is your PhD research about?

I have played and competed in all sorts of sports since I can remember. At high school, I got into swimming, netball, soccer, waka ama, running, touch and sevens. At university I played a couple of seasons of rugby union, interfaculty sports tournaments and attend a few gym classes, but was looking for something else. Eventually, my friend convinced me to try Crossfit – which is essentially just competitive strength and conditioning with some swimming, Olympic weightlifting and gymnastics thrown in there. It was like my dream sport! I started when I moved back home after finishing my Bachelors (BSc majoring in Geography and Environmental Science) in 2014 and haven’t looked back.

I then took three years off to travel and work, before returning to do my Honours in Geography in 2018. This year, I have started my PhD research under Te Kupenga Hauora Māori in the FMHS. I now study full time and spend about 15-20 hours training a week, as well as coaching part-time.

My PhD research is on Māori Health and Kai (in a nutshell). This incorporates all of my passions –promoting health and wellbeing through food and sustainable food systems. It also enhances Tino Rangatiratanga through prioritising Māori practises, customs and knowledges regarding kai, resilience, food security and food sovereignty.

What are some of the strategies you use to balance Crossfit and study, along with managing your wellbeing?

It’s generally just a question of discipline. Both study and training rely on your ability to motivate yourself, even on the hard days of training and the dull days of study. Using Siri reminders has also helped a lot to juggle everything (haha).

Making sure that I get lots of sleep! It’s essential to prioritise recovery, physio (and doing their exercises haha), and cooking yummy, nutritious food that I look forward to every day.

What reflections and learnings have you taken from 2020 so far? Have there been any silver linings or unexpected opportunities?

2020 has been the year of realising that busier is not better and that I would rather achieve balance in my life than be stressed out running from thing to thing. This means sacrifices (like moving away from my friends and family) and discipline, but it is better in the long run.

What advice would you give to a first year you/younger student-performer on managing performance, study and wellbeing?

Be confident in your abilities and your personality. Always put yourself outside of your comfort zone, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you rise to the challenge and get to places you never thought you could!

What are your aspirations in both your performance pursuit, your career and in life?

At this point, I’m just aiming to finish my PhD and qualify for the Games at some point before I’m 30 (I have 3.5 years to go). After that, who knows! I’ve learned that life doesn’t always turn out how you plan so no point stressing over it!