An exercise in self-care – sisters team up to inspire others

10 August 2022

Of the many ways to support whānau, practising self-care should be at the top of the list. Squad Sisters founders Courtney Papuni and Haromi Williams explain how physical exercise can help you show up for others, provided you show up for yourself first.

Squad Sisters founders Courtney Papuni and Haromi Williams often exercise from the comfort of their homes. Their tamariki sometimes join in – after all, keeping fit and active is a way of life for their whānau.

The duo, who are sisters, had the idea of creating an online fitness community when Aotearoa went into lockdown in 2020.

“Nobody could go anywhere, nobody could train, but we all wanted to train. It was a no-brainer. It was good for our mental health because we were still able to communicate with other people,” says Haromi.

That’s when Squad Sisters was born.

Squad sisters group
Squad sisters group

The pair began by hosting Zoom sessions, beginning with a six-week online programme aimed at building mental resilience through exercise.

Living rurally meant technology was a challenge at times.

“I had to kick my kids off the internet because we couldn’t have too many devices going at the same time,” laughs Courtney.

A place of understanding

Haromi’s daughter was just a couple of months old when she and Courtney decided to kickstart their mahi.

I was living on a farm, I was isolated, it was lockdown. All I had was my three babies and my partner who was gone most of the day working on a dairy farm.

Haromi Williams

“I didn’t really get much time to myself – exercise is what saved me from losing my mind,” she says.

Haromi is not alone. Finding time to prioritise self-care is a challenge for many of the māmā she helps train.

“Often as māmā we struggle to see our worth and see our importance because often we put whānau before ourselves.”

Courtney says for māmā taking part, the impact of physical exercise has been huge.

“They have more energy to be the māmā they want to be, they’re happier, and they’re finally giving back to themselves.”

A growing community

As word spreads about their mahi, Courtney and Haromi are focused on expanding the programmes they have on offer.

The recent launch of Squad Brothers has been a huge success.

“The guys mahi hard for their whānau so it’s about them looking after themselves so they can keep being the dad, bro or uncle,” says Courtney.

All classes normalise the use of te reo Māori, and after evening classes they have a kōrero to discuss things like nutrition and other barriers that might be getting in the way of their training.

Group photo of Squad Sisters and participants
Group photo of Squad Sisters and participants

“Sometimes it’s just a good old catch-up because we have all become really close over the sweat, the struggles and the wins,” says Courtney.

Haromi says for many members, the end goal is about being healthy in body, mind and spirit, not just for themselves, but for their tamariki and for future generations.

“Ko te tino whainga o tenei hapori whakapakari/whakaharatau hei whakakaha I te tinana, hei whakapiki I te wairua, hei whakaora I te hinengaro.”