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John Fiu is aptly nicknamed ‘boulder shoulders’ because he’s never one to shy away from hard work.
Now he has his sights set on boxing glory.
“I love it 358% – it’s the reason I get up every morning,” he says.
John has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair.
“I have right side spasms which means it’s stiff on the muscles on both sides but I get it on the right side mostly.”
Every other day he trains at Ryze Fitness in Avondale, a gym specialising in adaptive fitness.
His trainer AJ Pouoa has been guiding him through his boxing journey for the last two years.
“I’m so proud of him. He would talk to people but not open up but now he comes through this door like he owns it,” she says.
It was in 2015 when John took up boxing thanks to his uncle and boxing legend David Tua who initially took him under his wing.
“The reason I did boxing is because I had been bullied in intermediate, college and primary,” he says.
“When I was in my 20s, I got people saying, ‘you’re useless and I’ll push you off your wheelchair – see how you like it’, and look at it now.”
AJ has seen him through his trials and tribulations, providing moral support to help him cope with persistent discrimination.
“It’s a matter of having him shift his focus from all these negative things that happen or [that] he goes through or [has] feelings with and shift his focus to something positive,” she says.
“If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be here,” John says.
“I’d be like hiding in my room; staying there; thinking I’m worthless; hopeless; I’m not famous; I don’t wanna do anything; I don’t wanna do boxing; I don’t wanna see anybody – that’s all I was thinking in my childhood.”
Never one to back down, John continues to make his presence known in the community as a volunteer security guard at Mangere Town Centre.
“It’s like my comfort zone away from the gym when I come here. I’m a whole different person – I like to talk to people, see how they’re doing,” he says.
“I don’t do it for money, I do it for the awareness of the public knowing that a disabled person is here.”
As a security guard, his boxing knowledge comes in handy too.
“It’s a good chance to practice my boxing skills but not in front of the public,” he says laughingly.He would rather show his skills in the ring, but with the covid pandemic still rife, John has had to postpone his fights several times.
“People are tightening their belts really tight so it’s really hard to try and organise events and ask for funding because people are unsure if these things are gonna go through,” AJ says.
Nevertheless, John remains positive about the big goal ahead.
“Be the next adaptive boxing champion, that’s the long-term goal,” he says.