In order to rub shoulders with her All White hero, Auckland football player Briar Richards had to jump... but it was all for a good cause.
Richards and her teammates in the Saint Kentigern girls football team met All White midfielder Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi during a warm-up session at the 14th annual Anchor AIMS Games in Tauranga today.
Richards, 11 years old and 1.50m tall, was paired up with the 1.86m-tall All White to practice a shoulder tap move. Richards jumped while Hudson-Wihongi leaned down.
As they warmed up, Hudson-Wihongi offered some tips to protect against injury during her first game tomorrow.
“He told me how to keep my legs straight and bent and under my shoulders,” says Richards.
Hudson-Wihongi, 22, knows all about the importance of remaining injury-free. He made the All Whites team in 2015 but has been sidelined for the past nine months with a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).
He's been cleared by his surgeon and is back training with the team.
“Since [surgery] I've just been rehabbing but I'm back now."
Hudson-Wihongi is an ACC SportSmart ambassador and he took to the warm-up zones yesterday to encourage young athletes to take good care of their bodies so they don't endure injuries. He knows from experience that it's excruciating to watch your teammates from the sideline because of injury.
He says 11 to 13-year-olds should practice landing and jumping properly and do effective warm-ups to protect their knees.
Hudson-Wihongi trains for at least 15 hours a week, including an intense regimen of stretching to compensate for his injury.
He didn't get to play at the AIMS Games when he was younger.
“I wish I did though! It looks like a lot of fun – get a week off school to play a sport you love, with your friends, in the Mount.”