After 15 years working as a Strength and Conditioning Coach for elite athletes around the world, Matiu Taingahue decided to return to New Zealand and retrain as an Osteopath.
Matiu left high school in 1994 and moved to Dunedin to study a Bachelor of Physical Education at the University of Otago. After going on to complete a Masters degree, specialising in Exercise Prescription, Physiology and Biomechanics, he started his career as a Functional Exercise Specialist.
“Strength and conditioning coaching was something I’d always wanted to do,” says Matiu. “In my first major role I worked with Otago Highlanders Rugby, the NZ Academy of Sport, the University of Otago, Otago Polytechnic and a handful of individual professional athletes. My wife and I then travelled to her homeland of Sweden, where I lectured at the University and regional sports organisation and was a strength and conditioning coach to a semi-professional volleyball team, handball team and a professional soccer team. We then moved to Norway so I could work with another professional soccer team.”
In 2010, Matiu was offered the role of Head of Strength and Conditioning at the renowned Aspire Academy in Qatar - the country’s National Academy for Sporting Excellence. So he and his wife, now with two children in tow, packed up their lives and moved to the Middle East.
Taking a new career path
“We lived in Qatar for 2 years, and had our third child there,” says Matiu. “The role with Aspire was an amazing opportunity and I was lucky enough to work with some elite global athletes, coaches, and support staff who were at the top of their game. However, while I was there, I began thinking more seriously about retraining as an osteopath.”
Osteopathy was something Matiu had always been interested in, having used elements of it in conjunction with athletes’ training programmes over the years. But he says the real decider came when he was doing an observation with the UK track and field team leading into the London Olympics.
“The sprints coach was using a model he called performance therapy, which combined hands-on therapy and physical training to improve performance rather than just to treat injury. It was a more developed version of things I had used in the past, and particularly interested me as my main focus at that time was movement analysis. So, when the coach explained it was something he’d developed while working with an American osteopath, it clinched it for me. I made the decision to leave my job and head back to New Zealand to study osteopathy.”
At the time, Unitec was the only tertiary provider in the country offering an osteopathy degree - made up of a three-year Bachelor of Health Science followed by a two-year Masters in Osteopathy. Thanks to Matiu’s previous qualifications, Unitec allowed him to fast track his studies and go straight into the degree’s third year.
“Jumping in at the intermediate year of the Bachelors degree had its challenges. While a lot of what I’d learnt in my Physical Education degree came back to me, there was also a lot that had changed. One thing I noticed was how far research had developed since I’d last studied - there was so much more available, most of it online. The younger students couldn’t believe it when I told them we used to look articles up using a microfiche!
“To be honest though, the hardest thing was going from a full-time job to full-time study after 15 years in the workforce. We were back in New Zealand with no job, no house and three kids - it was certainly a shock!”
Matiu spent the next three years completing his degree and Masters in Osteopathy. He says he found Unitec’s teaching staff were great and several were among the best he’d seen in the world.
“I was in the privileged position of being able to compare Unitec with a number of global tertiary institutions. I’d studied at the University of Otago and had worked with other universities around the world - including lecturing in Exercise Prescription and Physiology at a University in Sweden and working closely with a University in Norway. I can say that I found Unitec’s staff to be as good as any I’d seen. In fact, my supervisor, Rob Moran, is one of the best academics I’ve ever worked with.”
After graduating in 2015, Matiu secured a role at Wellwest Osteopath clinic in Henderson, where he still works today - along with the Body Clinic in Kumeu. He says that while retraining was tough, it’s something he’s never regretted.
Making a difference in people's health and lives
“There’s so much I love about being an Osteopath. For one thing, there’s the flexibility - not being bound to a sports team and having my time dictated by their schedule, which is so important to me as my kids grow up.
“But probably what I love most about my work are the people. The main driver of my move to osteopathy was being able to make a difference in people’s health and lives. Now that I’m doing it, that part has almost become a given - it’s just part of the job. What I really value now is meeting such a wide range of people: getting to know them; hearing their stories. That’s what makes me look forward to coming to work each day. I think if you start treating your patients as simply ‘conditions you’re trying to fix’, you risk becoming like a conveyor belt!”
Matiu’s key piece of advice to graduates is not to expect to start their career at the top.
“I don’t believe you come out of a degree 100% equipped to be the best at your job. The big difference between me and the younger students I trained with, was that they expected to leave Unitec and immediately be great osteopaths. I knew I’d come out and spend the next 5-10 years becoming one. A degree is really a licence to learn - and learning is something you should continue to do throughout your career. Once you stop, it’s probably time to try something new!”
Unitec Osteopaths clinic is located right on our Mt. Albert campus and offers osteopathy services to students, staff, and the general public.