SouthlandSport editor Nathan Burdon

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SIT internship with Academy Southland helps change life

SIT internship with Academy Southland helps change life

The relationship between Academy Southland and the Southern Institute of Technology has helped provide another pathway into the sport and recreation industry; but for one student it has also been life changing. 

Chris Kennedy arrived at SIT in 2014 determined to turn his life around after serving a sentence for aggravated robbery – the end result of losing his teenage years to an addiction to methamphetimine and LSD. 

It was during his time in prison that Chris developed a passion for exercise, especially lifting weights – ironically something that was sparked by an invitation to train with some Mongrel Mob members on his first day inside. 


Three years into his tertiary studies at SIT he started an internship with Academy Southland - which supports our next generation of promising sportspeople with life skills, mental skills, nutrition and strength and conditioning - and never looked back. 

“That really meant the world to me, because I didn’t really think it would be possible for me with my history,” Chris said. 

“That internship meant everything to me, it’s really what sparked a lot of confidence in me that I could achieve more.” 

SIT Sport and Exercise tutor Will Payne made the introductions and provided a recommendation for Chris, who initially began by shadowing then-Academy Southland strength and conditioning coach Nardine Oakes. 

It was an exciting time for the Academy Southland programme, who were in the process of moving from a commercial gym environment at World Health and Fitness to the current purpose-built Mike Piper Training Centre at the SIT Velodrome. 

Chris would eventually do much more than the allocated hours required for his course, including leading sessions with Academy Southland athletes and briefly taking over as the head coach when Oakes took up a role overseas. 

It was also during this time that he attracted the attention of the Southland Sharks, working with the team as their strength and conditioning coach. 

And from there, he was noticed by Sharks coach Judd Flavell, who as the assistant coach for the New Zealand Breakers, invited Chris to move to Auckland to be involved in a voluntary role with the Australian NBL franchise. 

Chris has now spent the past two years working with the Breakers franchise, as well as continuing his studies at Auckland University of Technlogy (AUT). 

He will soon complete his Masters before embarking on his PhD over the next three years. 

If that weren’t enough, Chris also had an online powerlifting coaching business and has just returned from his first world powerlifting championships in Sweden, finishing sixth in the under 74kg open division. 

“I was nominated to come 13th so I was really happy to get my ranking up a bit higher,” he said. 

Chris is one of a number of SIT graduates who have gone on to find employment in the recreation industry following an association with Academy Southland or Sport Southland. 

“It can be a tough industry to break into because there aren’t a lot of opportunities like the ones I’ve had in New Zealand,” Chris said. 

Academy Southland manager Jason McKenzie said the organisation valued the relationship it had with SIT, both as a sponsor of the programme and the mutually beneficial intern partnership. 

SIT chief executive Penny Simmonds agreed.  

“SIT embraces community partnerships like the Academy Southland one because it can add so much value for everyone involved, just as this example with Chris Kennedy shows,” she said. 

“Gaining a qualification at SIT means learning with real life, industry experience where knowledge gained and relationships established can set you up for an amazing career in an industry you love. Working in partnership like this means that SIT, Academy Southland, local sports organisations and most importantly our students are all winners.” 

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