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Source: University of Waikato

You would be hard-pressed to find someone who has been inspired by Sir Edmund Hillary more than Kristie Baillie.

The University of Waikato graduate and former Sir Edmund Hillary athletics scholar has carved her own approach to giving back, largely inspired by the philosophy and work of Sir Ed.

Kristie received a Hillary Scholarship after finishing high school at Morrinsville College, recognising her athletic talents (she specialised in the 400m) and academic ability. At Waikato she studied a Bachelor of Social Sciences, majoring in anthropology and population studies, and followed it up with a Masters in Health, Sport, and Human Performance.

“I made the decision early in my degree to study what I was interested in, rather than something I felt I ‘should’ do,” says Kristie. Pursuing what she enjoyed helped her develop a genuine interest in people and helping them be the best they can be – something that would become clearer to her later on.

Balancing competition and study

While she was no slouch in the athletics realm, winning national and international titles in the 100, 200 and 400m events and New Zealand team selection in the 2014 Commonwealth Games, Kristie says she got the most out of the development and personal growth opportunities that form a large part of the Hillary scholarship programme.

“The Hillary programme gave me the freedom to do what I love and the support to keep pursuing it. I saw it as a real privilege to be part of – to be able to grow and develop yourself while studying and have the space to strive and be your best, whatever your discipline.”

The Hillary programme’s values centre on excellence and service, and it was the service aspect Kristie was particularly drawn to.

As a recipient of a Step Higher Award, Kristie travelled with three other scholars to Nepal in 2015, following Sir Ed’s footsteps to see his legacy in action in the Khumbu Valley.

“I can’t even describe how life-changing and rewarding that experience was. Just to see the impact of Sir Ed’s work in Nepal and to contribute to it was amazing, a real highlight.

“I ended up going back the next year on my own to volunteer teaching English while living with a local family in a remote village in the East. I would love to go back again one day.”

Since becoming a scholar, Kristie has regularly fundraised for the Himalayan Trust, which was established by Sir Ed in the 1960s and works to reduce poverty, improve education and health, and bring safe water to remote communities in Nepal, and has a close relationship with the Hillary programme.

In 2019 she climbed Mt Te Aroha eight times in 48 hours (the equivalent height of hiking Mt Everest) to raise funds, beating her previous efforts of climbing it four times in 48 hours in 2014 and 2016.

Kristie’s commitment to giving back is slowly but surely extending into her professional life too. Currently working at the New Zealand Skydiving School in Auckland, she’s also pouring her energy into encouraging others into personal development.

Earlier this year she co-organised and hosted the Conquer Your Own Mountain personal leadership development summit at the University’s Hamilton campus, where current and former Hillary scholars, students and community members got together for an afternoon of inspirational speakers and to learn strategies for success.

“Facilitating those discussions around development and growth and helping other people see their potential is where I get the most excited. I have been so fortunate to benefit from the opportunities that the Hillary programme gave me and I’m working towards a future where I can help give those opportunities and skills to other people.”

Watch this space.

MIL OSI