Tauranga’s Robyn Denize is the kind of woman you want in a tricky situation. In fact, any situation that requires the tenacity of a terrier and the skills of an army veteran, well, Robyn is the woman to call.
The children’s violin teacher is the archetype of a classical music teacher – quietly spoken, gracious and passionate about the arts.
But stereotypes vanish quicker than a Wonder Woman twirl when she trades in that persona for the uniform of a search and rescue volunteer.
Within hours of leaving her day job she is often found practising drills alongside team members of USAR (Urban Searchand Rescue), Team 16. Drills includedangling off cliff faces, rescuing people in rubble piles and buildings, or in the weekends, swimming across raging rivers.
If you’re like me and find youradrenalin coursing due to the regular morning routine of getting children out of the house on time, then chatting to Robyn will either have you inspired or tired. Or both.
Robyn is not much of a talker – especially when describing herself, but she does admit to having an adventurous nature that thrives on mental and physical challenges.
Often it’s the little things that have a lasting impact on the choices we make, and in Robyn’s case it was the small matter of a full backpack and a misplaced foot. While out enjoying a tramp in steep hill country in March 2014, the foot trip ended up having major consequences for her health and later impacted on an important choice.
One shattered pelvis and a helicopter ride to hospital later, Robyn was left with a three-month recovery and was extremely grateful to the people who rescued her off the steep hill that autumn morning.
Fast forward to 2016 when she spotted an advert asking for volunteers for the very team that rescued her.
“It was time for payback. I need to keep busy mentally and physically and when I saw the advert, I knew it was what I needed.”
Under the umbrella of the Civil Defence, the USAR Western Bay of Plenty Team is called in when a specialised rescue is necessary, such as cliff and/or rope rescues, swift water rescue, and for building searches after an earthquake strikes.
“I like being part of this team. Volunteering involves a lot of learning, being extended and being able to access places that I would never get to otherwise.
“I like the adrenalin and it’s also payback for my rescue. It feels good to be able to help people.”
Robyn’s interest in the outdoors started in childhood when her family would camp, tramp, sail and kayak. Her father was a founding member of the Hamilton Tomo Group and introduced caving to the family; more outdoor skills were honed at Girl Guide Camps.
Years later, Robyn became a Brownie leader so her own daughter could experience the same fun. More recently she completed Outdoor First Aid and other courses so she can help train teenagers undertaking Duke of Edinburgh and Hillary Awards.
Earlier this year, her love of the outdoors saw Robyn complete a trek to Basecamp in the Himalayas tocommemorate the 65th anniversary of SirEdmund Hillary’s climb.
Robyn is a member of Sir Edmund Hillary’s Himalayan Trust and during her time in Nepal she also worked as a volunteer.
“I joined the Trust because I wanted to give something to the community over there. Sir Ed set up schools and hospitals after his original summit, but the people still need a lot of help, particularly with the2015 earthquake.”
Since the earthquake, 75 classroomshave been re-built, with a lot more work to do.
It’s backbreaking work as the isolation, poverty and topography means there is no machinery, cars or motorbikes, let alone trucks or heavy lifting machinery in the villages.
“It’s old school. You build with your hands and carry with your body.”
Alongside other Trust volunteers Robyn helped build new classrooms. “We moved heavy rocks for building the classrooms and we broke rocks forconcrete to build the floors.
“I didn’t want to just visit Nepal and trek to Basecamp. I wanted to help keep Sir Ed’s legacy going. I saw the swing bridges and schools he built – you realise how much he gave back many, many times over.” As well as helping to build new classrooms, Trust volunteers also spent time inside village schools helping improve children’s literacy.
Given that Robyn’s day job is teaching children music, it comes as no surprise that children and nature are what help her re-charge.
If you can’t find her outside, the nextbest place to look is inside the music room.
“I really enjoy the children’s personalities – watching them grow as people and musicians. Learning a piece of music is often the first thing they encounter that they have to do for themselves – and they have to get through that with tenacity.
“It also teaches them to deal with their own personalities – some of them are perfectionists and they get frustrated. If they learn how to deal with frustration through music then this flows on to other parts of their lives. Children are amazing.”
She says music has enormous value to the development of a child’s brain as well as to the development of persistence and resilience. “Researchers have wired kids up while they have played music and it has lit up more of the brain than any other activity – the violin more so than any other instrument.”
Robyn teaches music at the Tauranga Waldorf School where the violin is taught to all students from Year 3 as part of its curriculum. This year her students will haveextra company in the form of a fluffy puppycalled Ikon.
As if she didn’t have enough going on, Robyn is training Ikon as an Assistance Dog.
“The support and education we get from the Assistance Dogs Trust is huge and the fact that he will be a lifeline for someone makes you feel good. We are healthy and we can do what we want but others can’t.”
While Robyn appears to be extremely busy with her numerous interests and community work, she distills success down to three words – family, health and happiness.
“A successful life is family. A couple of weeks ago my children came back home to join my husband, Colin and I for a ski trip. They are adults, but the fact they still want to hang out with mum and dad is a real compliment. This afternoon we will be out working in the mud, heavy physical work, but it’s all good because we can do it. We are healthy.”
Although her children have left home, there will never be an empty nest. “There are godchildren you meet, kids that keep returning home, and step grandchildren. Then there are the violin students, school kids, and Duke of Edinburgh students. It’s like Grand Central Station here sometimes.”
Images: CATHERINE MAIN PHOTOGRAPHY, NICK BROUGHTON, CINDY MCQUADE