How Suncorp’s Waka Ama world champ Katja Hildebrandt juggles work and play 

8 October 2019

In 1998, Katja Hildebrandt joined the Vero dragon boating team to make friends in her new country.

More than 20 years later, the Suncorp Software Engineer is now a Waka Ama (outrigger canoeing) world champ, proudly representing New Zealand on the world stage.

In August, Katja and her Over 70’s team won the 2019 World Distance Champs held in Mooloolaba on the Sunshine Coast, the most recent in her long list of victories.

The 16 kilometre race was a new challenge for the long-time Suncorp employee, who prefers outrigger sprint racing.

“I’m so glad I agreed. It couldn’t have gone any better. We were first out of the block and we never lost it. It was our fastest race as a team, coming in at 1 hour and 45 minutes.”

The team of six came in ahead of their biggest competitors, beating the Australian team by three minutes and the Hawaiian team by eight.

Katja’s discovered her passion for Waka Ama after the Vero dragon boating team disbanded in 2001.

“I was down at the lake when the outriggers came along, and they happened to have a spare seat,” she laughs. “That was the beginning.”

When she’s asked how she juggles training six days a week with working full-time in the Technology, Data and Labs team at Suncorp, ‘flexible working’ is her answer.

Katja, 70, says she is the baby of the team. Her teammates are retirees, and while they have lots of free time to keep up with the demanding training schedule, Katja makes use of Suncorp’s flexible working arrangements.

Before flexible working was introduced, Katja started training at 4am so she would be finished in time to make it to work.

Now she works from home three days a week, and on the two days she is in the Auckland office she opts for early starts and finishes so her afternoons can be spent out on the water.

“The thing I love about New Zealand is that nobody asks me how old I am when I say I want to do something. The attitude is simply ‘if I can help you I will’.

“Here at Suncorp the attitude is the same. Flexible working helps me, and look what I’ve been able to achieve with it,” she says.  

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Media enquiries: Bridget Catchpole +64 27 215 1292

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