Time out with a knee injury increased Waikato rugby player Tom Martin’s drive to complete his design degree and develop his own rugby products.

Published 6 December 2022

Hamilton-based Tom is back in Wellington this week to graduate with his Bachelor of Design Innovation and have a much-awaited catch-up with course mates.

He has been looking forward to receiving his degree after a series of metaphorical hard tackles threatened to derail his progress.

COVID-19 and extended quarantine measures meant much of the last part of his degree was done in isolation and from a distance, a very difficult mission for such a hands-on course.

His serious knee injury, sustained in a tackle in a Wellington club rugby game in July, also temporarily cast a shadow on his motivation, but he says those doubts cleared after surgery.

Tom, 22, who plays as flanker for Waikato, could just have easily pursued a career in fine arts, drawing on his family’s background.

“I come from a painting background and love drawing, and incorporating the textures and the colours through my work.

“My granddad was an artist. My dad’s a graphic designer, and he was a professional rugby player. And my mum was an art teacher. Being a rugby player and a designer is pretty rare, you don’t see it often.”

When designing, Tom often draws several ideas before starting three-dimensional modelling.

“All designers work differently. A lot of fellow classmates would be straight on the computer.”

Tom completed his degree and the tricky Stage 3 Industrial Design Capstone paper from a distance, with no access to facilities at the University, while juggling rugby commitments.

“We ended up getting moved as a squad, first to Cambridge and then to Tauranga, so we could be in our own bubble, and we were kind of just playing cat-and-mouse with COVID.

“I needed to hand in my capstone project over that period. For the video presentation on my website, I ended up directing my brother and my dad over a call to shoot it because all my stuff was still back home.

“This is the last paper you do and it’s kind of make-or-break a little bit and quite intense.”

Tom has developed two rugby products: “The Tight 5”, a rugby multi-tool for players and coaches, and the “XO” suit, a scrummaging-practice resistance jacket/harness.

He has been working on the multi-tool to make some prototypes for testing in the next Super Rugby season.

The injury and lengthy recovery have been “tough” but have an up-side to them, he says.

“Now I’m in a place where my main focus is on rehabilitation and my training, but with this secondary energy to put into my design work, which I may not have had so much time for otherwise. My brain is going like the clappers.”

Tom says he is on track for a return to professional rugby next year when, only a few months ago, his injury and state of mind were threatening to disrupt his design work.

“I’d say about three months ago I hadn’t thought about carrying on with any of these projects. Until my head cleared after surgery and now I'm back on.

“It’s been pretty hard. This is my first major injury and then the sport you love is so suddenly taken away.

“So graduating is going to be pretty special.”


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