Women's rugby pioneer Farah Palmer to become a dame

Former Black Ferns captain Farah Palmer.

Farah Palmer is already a World Rugby hall of fame inductee, Black Fern trailblazer and academic professor, and now she's going to be a dame for her services to sport.

Born in Te Kuiti in 1972 but raised in Piopio, Palmer played a variety of different sports growing up but it wasn't until she studied at Otago University that she started playing rugby regularly.

Originally a prop, she shifted to hooker, launching her decade-long journey in the Black Ferns where she became captain, leading New Zealand to three World Cup titles.

In the midst of her playing career she earned a PhD in 2000 before becoming a professor at Massey University the following year.

In 2007, Palmer was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

Her academic prowess and rugby experience led her to become the first woman appointed on the New Zealand Rugby board.

Despite her incredible career both on and off the field, Palmer is reluctant about her new title.

"It was a bit of a shock. I was like 'why me?'" she said.

"All of those kind of questions that you ask yourself and I did hesitate for a long time before accepting, but really humbled."

The hesitation was so great that Palmer hid the letter from her family and hasn't opened it again since.

"I didn't get past the first couple of lines," she said, laughing.

"I quickly folded it back up and stuck it back in the envelope and put it somewhere I thought nobody could find it. It's sitting there. I need to go back and have a good read of it."

Palmer said while she'll get around to reading the rest of the letter and go through with becoming a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, "it's going to take a lot to get used to it".

Dr Farah Palmer hoists "Nancy" after winning the 1998 Rugby World Cup.

"It comes with a lot of responsibility and that's what I had to think about when I accepted. It's not just me I'm representing but many women and Māori in rugby who have done amazing things."

She said as a teenager, she "had this big vision of making a difference" but "didn't really know what that looked like or what that meant".

"But the people who mattered to me were Māori and women. I had a lot of strong women in my whānau and being Māori was important to me so that's what I wanted to do."

The 50-year-old says rugby provided the vehicle to make that happen.

"Playing rugby challenged the way people think about women, how they should look and behave and be, so I really loved that about rugby," she said.

"I've taken that further in terms of I tried to do coaching, tried to be in the media, tried player development and found my place in governance."

Current Kiwi sporting heroes also honoured

Hamish Bond

Several current high-achieving New Zealand sporting representatives were acknowledged in the New Year Honours list, including Hamish Bond and Eric Murray, who were made Companions of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to rowing.

Bond and Murray won gold medals in the coxless pair at the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games, setting both world and Olympic records at the London Olympics.

Between 2009 and 2016, Bond and Murray had an unbeaten partnership with 69 consecutive wins in the men’s coxless pair. They won seven consecutive World Rowing Championship titles in the coxless pair.

Bond was also a member of the gold medal-winning men’s eight crew at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

He is the only New Zealand man to win gold medals at three successive Olympics. Between 2016 and 2019, he competed in road cycling, winning bronze at the 2017 Oceania Championship in the time trial; gold in the same event in 2018; and a bronze at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.

Murray represented New Zealand in rowing at four Olympics Games between 2004 and 2016.

Meanwhile, Paul Coll was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to squash.

In 2022, he became the first New Zealand man to reach No.1 in the Professional Squash Association World Rankings.

Coll became New Zealand's first man to win squash Commonwealth Games gold when he triumphed in Birmingham.

Zoi Sadowski-Synnott and Nico Porteous received the same honour for services to snow sports, and Nathan Fa'avae was similarly recognised for services to adventure racing, outdoor education and the Pacific community.

Sadowski-Synnott told 1News she "was definitely surprised to be awarded" the honour.

"It's such a huge honour and I'm real stoked," she said.

"When I was growing up and started snowboarding, I was so inspired by everyone who came before me in every aspect of sport and just to be in that position now is wild.

"But yeah, that's kind of why I do it nowadays is so that the people coming up have someone to look up to and know that there is a road there for them to follow."

Fa'avae is a seven-time adventure racing (mountainbiking, kayaking and trekking) world champion and has pioneered women's adventure racing in New Zealand.

Former Silver Ferns head coach Leigh Gibbs was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to netball, with former New Zealand Olympic Committee chief executive Kereyn Smith likewise recognised for services to sports governance.


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