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NZCIS - a total game-changer...

The Hurricanes sit atop the Super Rugby Pacific table and the Wellington Phoenix have had their best regular reason in A-League history. Is there something in the water in the capital or is it down to a $150million centre bringing high-tech sports facility? In June last year,

ADAM COOPER toured the 18-hectare NZ Campus of Innovation and Sport.

Ever thought of mitigating body pain by donning a mask, headwear and
gloves and squeezing into a -87C cubicle for three minutes?

How about testing your cycling endurance on a Tour de France stage
surrounded by identical air altitude, temperature and humidity?

Or completing your injury rehabilitation on an underwater treadmill?

These world-leading high-performance sport scenarios are no longer pipe dreams for athletes in New Zealand, courtesy of the new state-of-the-art $150 million sports and recreation campus north of Wellington.

On a clear, dewy winter’s morning in the heart of residential Trentham, the final touches of paint and pourings of concrete are being completed on the new jewel in Upper Hutt’s crown – the 18-hectare NZ Campus of Innovation and Sport (NZCIS), ....

.....already trumpeted as one of the most advanced training

and sports research facilities in the world.

Along with spacious gym facilities and indoor pools, the hub houses climate-controlled rooms, cryotherapy facilities, a sports medicine laboratory, four outdoor fields, a huge indoor field and on-site accommodation for hundreds of people.

As we arrived for a sneak peak of the ground-breaking new facility ahead of its official opening, there was immediate proof the campus is bustling with many of the country’s top athletes.

Jordie Barrett and his Hurricanes rugby teammates were high on energy in the vast 1000m² gym, with cheering, applause and blaring rap music accompanying their physical weight sessions timed sprint exercises and mat workouts just hours out from their flight to

Canberra for the Super Rugby Pacific playoffs.

Across the room, living a more subtle existence, skipper Alex Rufer and several of his Wellington Phoenix football teammates completed light off-season training on the exercycle machines – showing that the capital’s leading sports teams are happily co-existing in their new surrounds.

Both the Hurricanes and Phoenix shifted their men’s and women’s team bases and staff offices to NZCIS in the past year – happy to operate around the wet paint, drilling sounds and loose timber as construction continued.

Jamie Tout, the NZCIS Performance Institute’s general manager, enthusiastically greets us for his latest of what must be hundreds of personalised tours he’s led as the centre has taken shape.

Tout’s justifiable passion for the centre remains like that of a proud father boasting about their own kids’ sporting abilities.

“It is world-class, and we’re not being facetious or arrogant in saying that,” Tout said.
“We know from the players that have travelled a lot, the David Balls of the world and others who have been in those Manchester City-like environments, they talk about how this stacks up... it is a co-share environment, it’s got lots of accommodation attached to it as well.”

If anyone knows how the facility compares with others around the world, it’s Tout. As the initial idea for the dormant former Central Institute of Technology site gained traction from noted local developers Malcolm Gillies and Kevin Melville, inspiration was sought from professional sporting heavyweights around the world.

“The New York Giants, Yankees, Knicks, Manchester United, Paris Saint Germain, Red Bull and UFC were all kind enough to go through a process of sharing what their facilities looked like, both in terms of rooms, room size, type of equipment and quantity of equipment, and we developed a really cool facility matrix.”

With the matrix now a reality, Tout is eager to lead us through to one of the facility’s “world-firsts”: an altitude and climate-controlled bike studio, believed to be one of the biggest in the world.

In the room of 40 bike machines – collectively valued at $150,000 – any admiration over the impressive array of mood lighting settings is quickly superseded by the ability to change the room’s air altitude, temperature and humidity levels, with athletes and teams also able to analyse individual and group performances on big screens.

“You could actually cycle a stage of the Tour de France, watch the tour on one TV and watch your data on another, and you could use a site application to see a virtual race,” Tout said.

“When the Phoenix are heading off to Townsville for a game or the Hurricanes across to Perth, they can come in and acclimatise a little bit before the shock of those temperatures, or the different environmental conditions.”

As the smell of chlorine increased, our burning question as the tour reached the four indoor training and rehab pools – why no lap pools for swimming? Tout clearly had been asked this before.

“As funny as it sounds, athletes just don’t swim. They go there to recover, they walk, they generally do their rehabilitation, but they just don’t swim.”

A notable feature of the hydrotherapy pools is the underwater treadmill – giving you the satisfaction of running in water with a body weight reduced by 90 per cent.

The nearby infrared sauna is modelled off the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens’, allowing room for 10 people in what Tout describes as a “little box of paradise”.

“You can put your own tunes on, chill out, change the lights, whatever you like. Red light therapy has been shown to have benefits in reducing jetlag and improving sleep quality and stress.”

One part of the whole NZCIS campus which clearly still triggers an emotion for Tout is the poolside 300-kilogram accessibility hoist – which undoubtedly is life-changing for an incapacitated or disabled athlete.

“By using a remote control, an athlete could lower themselves into any of these different [pool] environments”.

“We’re super proud of it, and we’ve already had some really amazing stories where we’ve had a guy who two years ago had a brain injury, and hadn’t been vertical unsupported by his care givers in two years. It answered the question of, well, why would you do it?”

Tout then leads us to a mystery room with a small enclosed pod. Sitting outside the pod are the high-performance version of winter woollies – headwear, a mask and gloves.

The pod is set at -87C (yes, you read that correctly: 87 degrees below the point at which water freezes) and operates cryotherapy recovery. Everyone’s advised to stay in the pod for no longer than three minutes.

“It treats lower body, back pain, general soreness, and there’s also an element of calorie burn,” Tout said as he opened the door to the chamber before he was surrounded by the cold air particles feverishly spreading out from the pod.

“You don’t want wet jocks when you go in there, because frostbite is a real thing, but yeah, very popular, and athletes seem to respond well to it”.

New, impressive technology – and spaciousness – remain the themes as Tout shows off the large indoor training ground, equipped with ceiling-based cameras, which link up to big screens for real-time skills execution.

On one side is the prominent interactive screen – the largest of its kind at more than 60m² – which can display real-size rugby, football and American Football goals, with a clear marker as to where the ball hit the screen – no television match official required.

The new indoor facility requires 32 kilometers of LAN cables to connect screens, cameras and data access points. 


Reflecting on the early days of the NZCIS dream becoming a reality, Tout hopes more is still to come – but as interest in the facility grows, he is mindful of not overloading the centre, and overcrowding the environment.

“I think we’ve always maintained we want to have less, but more meaningful, relationships. So it’s really important that these teams get the experience and the performance gains they need.

“We also want to keep working towards getting full utilisation and being a 365-day venue all year round.”

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