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Staying in Tune
Name: Te Whainoa (“Whai”) Te Wiata
Hometown: Hamilton, New Zealand
When Te Whainoa Te Wiata was growing up, he realized he was a little bit different than all the other kids. “I was kind of wondering why I was always doing the same thing as my cousins, but always the only one ending up in the hospital because of it,” he says.
Having hemophilia gave him distinct challenges, and he struggled with the implications of that. “I didn’t really listen to what I was supposed to do,” he remembers. “I did stuff that wasn’t really good for my body only because I didn’t want to miss out.”
Now 27, he still doesn’t do what all the other kids do — instead, he leads a life most people only dream about.
Let the Music Play
Te Wiata plays guitar in Cornerstone Roots, a reggae band out of New Zealand that toured Europe this past summer, including Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic.
“My family’s very musical,” says Te Wiata, who’s been playing since he was about 8 years old. “It doesn’t matter which side of the family I was with, I was always around music. It was more relevant than anything else.” Even so, he never imagined he’d make a career out of doing exactly what he loved.
Three years ago, he was told that he should be in a wheelchair by now, after developing arthritis in his knees when he was still a teen. “I think I embraced music when I found days that I couldn’t walk,” Te Wiata says. “I spent a lot of time in hospitals, so I couldn’t really do much but play my guitar — I think that’s where all the practice came in, and I kind of used having sore legs to my advantage.”
Fortunately, the Hamilton, New Zealand, native is still very much walking, and he’s now found a way to balance both feeling well and playing well, combining passion with practicality.
When the opportunity came in early 2009 to join Cornerstone Roots, Te Wiata jumped at it. “I’m a bit of a travel bug — I love traveling, I love going somewhere, I love being on the move,” he says. “If I can do that and do what I love to do at the same time, that kind of makes it even better.”
But given his hemophilia, “standing up on stage every night proved a bit of a challenge,” he says. “It can take a lot out of you if you take a lazy approach to being on the road. We’re spending eight hours in a van traveling around, and it can take its toll.” Playing in front of a crowd takes the pain away — but when the music stops, the discomfort starts. To combat this during his summer tour, he maintained a regimented schedule that involved eating right, daily physiotherapy exercises, and stretching during every pit stop.
Although life still is different for Te Wiata than it is for his cousins, just as it was when they were kids — most 20-somethings don’t have arthritis or inject intravenously — he embraces it, finding ways to jump over the hurdles instead of being tripped up by them.
As a participant in Step Up Reach Out, an international leadership group for the bleeding disorders community, Te Wiata met other guys from all over the world with similar backgrounds, and has taken that experience back to New Zealand. “It teaches you heaps of cool little ways of getting active in that world,” he says.
Getting active is key, Te Wiata has discovered, both in the hemophilia community and in his own life. “Still to this day, the biggest challenge is trying to get my body back into shape,” he says. “If you’re not careful with what you do, you can seriously injure yourself.” By keeping active, he’s able to nourish his body and mind, giving him the physical and mental energy to travel the world, play music, and stay healthy.
Cornerstone Roots just released a new album and plans to continue to tour, and Te Wiata hopes to get back to Europe to explore more. “These days, there’s nothing holding us back realistically. I feel obstacles are only in the mind — I still battle with it to this day and a lot of times I ended up using hemophilia and arthritis as an excuse more than anything else,” he says. “But when I look at it, it should be more of a reason to excel in whatever it is I want to do.”