2019 Gold Heart Scholars

Variety is proud to announce its 2019 Gold Heart Scholars.

Every year, Variety awards Gold Heart Scholarships to deserving young people who excel in arts, music, sports or academics and are disadvantaged financially or living with an illness or disability. Funding is up to $5,000 and can be used for tuition fees, personal development, coaching, training and sports equipment, or travel and accommodation.

The scholarship is now on its 13th year, and Variety has teamed up with CMC Markets and Zurich New Zealand to help 21 exceptionally talented young people move closer to achieving their life goals.

This year’s scholars include future Paralympics and Olympics hopefuls, and represent various sports disciplines such as rugby, softball, swimming, athletics, trampolining, and tennis. The list also includes scholars who excel in academics and the performing arts.


Venessa Joyce, performing arts

Having already placed in a number of regional singing competitions, Venessa’s goal is to study vocals at tertiary level and represent New Zealand on the world stage.

Her tutor says “I have seen the potential for real accomplishment for her.  Her dedication, musicality and talent show the hallmarks of potential for further study at tertiary level.”

The scholarship will fund tuition fees for ongoing private vocal lessons.


Levi Popata, academics

A previous Gold Heart Scholarship recipient, Levi has proven himself deserving by consistently displaying academic excellence and dedication to his interests. He is a natural leader and a great example to others.

Levi wants to become a doctor, a  goal that both his boarding school director and his dean have no doubt he will achieve. He has endured difficulties in his life and has risen above them to prove he is capable of anything he sets his mind to.

The funds will enable Levi to continue studying at his boarding school, which provides him the necessary resources to work towards his life dream of becoming a doctor.



Verity Howells, performing arts

Verity is a well-rounded and talented musical theatre performer. A previous Gold Heart Scholar, Verity has won local musical competitions and played lead roles in junior theatre performances. She considers being chosen to perform in last year’s Coca Cola Christmas in the Park to an audience of over 250,000 a major career highlight. She has been offered a funded place to a Broadway Dreams course, an intensive musical theatre programme run by Broadway industry professionals, to be held in New York in November 2019.

Her Gold Heart Scholarship fund will enable Verity to receive tutoring from a previous winner of the World Championships of Performing Arts, with a goal of joining this competition in the future.

Lovely Pulotu, rugby

Not too many 17-year olds are as experienced on the rugby field as Lovely, who has been playing the sport for more than 10 years on a year-round schedule of touch, tag, sevens, 10’s rugby and 15’s rugby. The tireless athlete dreams of one day representing New Zealand in the women’s sevens and 15s  team. As an official Auckland Rugby Referee, she has had the opportunity to referee several televised 7s matches.

Funding will provide Lovely with sports gear, and allow her to travel to Melbourne for a tournament, keeping her on track to reach her goals.




David Pulotu, rugby

David is a previous Gold Heart Scholarship recipient and was chosen again this year for his excellence in rugby league. David is a previous player in the U14 Auckland North Representative Team and U14 Grade Auckland Rugby League Championship; and made the Auckland Akarana rugby team earlier this year.

David is grateful that his scholarship eases the financial pressure on his parents to provide for sports gear and travel costs, enabling him to compete in tournaments.

Funding will enable David to compete in the U17 Rugby League tournament on the Gold Coast later this year and provide him with new sports equipment and uniforms.

Beth Reid, softball

Beth is a gifted softball/baseball athlete whose ultimate goal is to compete in the 2020 Olympics. Just last year, she became the youngest player to make the Premier Women AFC series team.

Through her previous Gold Heart Scholarship funding, Beth represented New Zealand in the U19 Canada Cup International Softball in July last year. She was also part of the New Zealand White Sox in the Asia Pacific Cup in Sydney earlier this year.

This year’s funding means she can represent New Zealand at the under 19 World Championships in Irvine, California in August.




Laci Iro, rugby

Laci, a previous Gold Heart Scholar, is a talened tag rugby player. Laci has represented New Zealand in the Tag 20 Oceania Heritage Cup in Melbourne since 2017.

This year’s funding will enable Laci to continue competing with the New Zealand U18 and U21 tag teams in upcoming tournaments including the Tag20 World Cup on the Gold Coast next year.


Tusipepa Tautaileva, piano and academics

From a young age, Tusipepa has known what her goals are in life -  to become a doctor, and to be the world’s best pianist. Earlier this year, Tusipepa was selected to attend the Pacifica Health Science Academy and was also chosen as her school’s principal pianist. .

Funding will enable her to pursue her dreams, and in her words, “there are not enough words in the dictionary” to describe what a Gold Heart Scholarship would mean to her. Funding will go towards education fees, as well as costs associated with piano exams.


Brayden Keep, rowing and rugby

Brayden is a valued member of his high school rowing club, where he received the Most Improved Oarsman award at prizegiving during his novice year. He is also a passionate rugby player for his high school team.

Brayden credits sports for helping him develop discipline in academics and overall self-esteem.

Brayden’s goal this year is to attend the 2019 Aon Maadi Cup in rowing, and to continue developing his skills in rugby.

Ieuan Edwards, swimming

Ieuan is an accomplished swimmer who has his sights set high on competing at the 2022 Commonwealth Games, as well as the 2024 Paralympic Games.

He holds one New Zealand record, has won medals at previous New Zealand Short Course Champs and New Zealand Open meets and is the joint holder of the 2015 Halberg Junior Disability Games Overall Best Athlete.

Thanks to his 2018 Gold Heart funding, Iuean competed in the New Zealand Short Course Champs and the New Zealand Open where he won 2 silvers and 3 bronze medals, as well as attended development camps hosted by Para-swimming New Zealand and Selwyn Swim Club.

This year’s funding will enable him to compete in the NZ Open Championships in Auckland, where he hopes to win a gold medal and a national title. He continues to be an inspiration for younger disabled athletes and actively encourages them to be the best they can be in and out of the pool.


Montana Brown, wheelchair racing

For Montana, representing New Zealand at the Paralympic Games is the ultimate goal. She has proven to be a gifted Wheelchair Racer, having placed third in the 50m race and second in both the 100m and 200m races at the Halberg Games last year, only a year after taking up the sport.

Montana’s 2018 Gold Heart Scholarship funded the purchase of her own wheelchair instead of having to borrow one that did not fit her.

This year’s funding will allow her to compete in the Australia Down Under Series in January 2020.


Celyn Edwards, swimming

Swimming is Celyn’s passion, and he does not let his physical disability define him or slow him down. His achievements prove it, being selected to compete in the 2018 Commonwealth Games, as well as holding an almost unbelievable 23 New Zealand records and one Oceania record.

He is also the 2015 joint holder of the Halberg Junior Disability Games Overall Best Athlete and the 2016 holder of the Halberg Junior Disability Games Overall Best Athlete and Best Male Swimmer.

Celyn has represented New Zealand at the 2017 Berlin IDM meet, the 2017 Australian Swimming Para Grand Prix and the 2018 Victoria Championships. His aim is  to represent New Zealand at the 2020 Paralympics Games in Tokyo.

Celyn’s 2019 Gold Heart Scholarship will enable him to compete at the NZ Open Championships in Auckland.


Keanu Jennings, softball

Keanu is talented in a number of sports, representing the Horowhenua region in softball, baseball, swimming, basketball, athletics and hockey.

He dreams of representing New Zealand as a Black Sox or an Olympic swimmer in the future.

A Gold Heart Scholarship will help Keanu fund flights, accommodation, and all expenses related to representing New Zealand ISA U13 Boys Softball team in the USA and Canada in July.


Cruz Morland, swimming

Cruz has been a competitive swimmer for three years, placing at the top 3 of and earning personal bests in many of these tournaments. At the recent Division II Championships in Dunedin last March, Cruz earned three silver medals and qualifying times for the National Age Group Championships.

Talented and hardworking, Cruz is a dedicated swimmer who follows a rigorous daily training programme, hoping to someday compete in the Olympics.

Funding will allow Cruz to continue training, competing and growing as a swimmer, through funding of travel, accommodation and coaching.


Nigel Iro, rugby

Nigel is passionate about all aspects of rugby, from tag, to touch, to Rugby League, and has displayed talent and hard work for the sport.

As the captain of a team that has won two out of three finals, Nigel gets high praise from his coach for his “amazing leadership on and off the field earning him the respect of his fellow mates both as a player and friend.”

His goal is to one day represent New Zealand or the Cook Islands in the NRL, and to follow in his brother’s footsteps to become a personal trainer.

His 2019 Gold Heart Scholarship will help cover the cost of equipment, training gear and travel costs to competitions.


Hannah Walpole, tennis

Hannah is a high achieving young athlete in not just one but two sports: tennis, where she has played at a national level; and volleyball, where she has played at a regional level.

Also highly motivated academically, Hannah is interested in biology and genetics, and wants to go to university in the US on a sports or academic scholarship.

Funding will help with the cost of squad training and individual coaching in tennis and tournament costs in volleyball.


Troy Maka, athletics

Troy is a focused and determined athlete, often practicing 20+ hours per week just to stay in peak physical condition.

This determination has paid off as he is a consistent first placer and record holder in the Athletics Auckland Championships since 2016, achieved tournament records in discus and shot put at the Counties Manukau Championships this year, and placed first  in five events at the Colgate Games 2018 held at Mt Smart Auckland in January.

Troy’s goal is to represent New Zealand and win a gold medal at the Olympics.

This scholarship will fund Troy’s training gear, equipment and shoes.


Jack Jones, trampolining

“I live and breathe trampolining and I love it so much,” Jack says of the sport where he is ranked top 10 in the world for DMT (double-mini). His coach of three years, who has been coaching the sport for 40 years, describe Jack as the athlete with the most talent and potential he has ever coached.

The funding from this scholarship will help Jack attend competitions in New Zealand and overseas, including this year’s world age championships in Japan.


Tara-Leigh Turner, rugby

Tara-Leigh is one of the top sportswomen at her school and has been presented with many awards for her contribution to touch, rugby and league, both at school and outside of school. 

She has represented her school, region and country in these sports. She has been twice selected to tour Australia as part of the U16 Girls Team and was last year t chosen as the MVP (Most valued player) for the team and tournament.

Tara’s dean is all praises for her, “exceptional sportsmanship, focus, and maturity” while her coach is impressed with her commitment to the sport and her ability to get along with others.

This scholarship will help cover the costs of accommodation, uniform and flights to competitions.


Montel Peppard, rugby

Montel has been praised by his coach as someone with extraordinary talent in rugby and a great attitude towards training.

He has been selected to represent teams a grade above his age-group, including the senior rugby league team that attended the National Secondary School competition in Auckland last year.

While only having played rugby league for a year, Montel was chosen by his club as its sole player to go to Sydney for a training camp and trial. His performance was so impressive he was invited to return to Sydney during the NZ off season. He was awarded Most Promising Player at the club’s yearend awards.

His scholarship will allow him to attend this year’s National Schools Secondary Rugby League tournament in Auckland.


Percy Maka, athletics

Percy provided the highlight at the Auckland Athletics Championships in 2018 by smashing two long-standing records, one of which had stood for 35 years, in the 12-year-old boys' age group. He is the holder of three world records, and several Auckland and tournament records in discus and shotput.

Even with a busy training schedule, Percy still finds time to do volunteer work at the club.

His 2019 Gold Heart Scholarship will help fund the cost of equipment, training gear and travel costs to the 47th NZ Secondary School Athletics Championships.