Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Two elite sportsmen run a free community gym that’s going above and beyond

A free community gym in Dunedin is run by Ilai Elekana Manu and Pelu Taele-Pavihi

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Anauli Karima Fai'ai | Reporter/Director

Every week, Ilai Elekana Manu runs a wrestling class for children.

“Wrestling in itself is great to build confidence and help people to regulate their emotions and aggression levels and being able to channel their energy into something positive.”

The class is just one of many that’s run at a free community gym in Caversham, Dunedin which is owned by the Te Kāika Health Hub. Ilai works as a health coach for the hub and regularly helps out at the gym, which is run by Pelu Taele-Pavihi.

“We have a clinic that’s affiliated with our service. We have people who are suffering from illnesses, chronic diseases, especially our own people with diabetes, pre-diabetic… So we get them in here, get them up and running, get them active,” Pelu says.

Both Ilai and Pelu have trained at the highest levels of sport. Ilai is an olympic wrestler who has competed for Tokelau around the world, while Pelu is a former professional rugby player who spent 15 years playing in the UK, Italy and France.

The free community gym owned by Te Kaika Health Hub in Dunedin. Photo: Supplied
The free community gym owned by Te Kaika Health Hub. Photo: Supplied

Both have come home to give back to the community that kickstarted their journeys.

“I’ve always wanted to be in a role that when rugby was finished, something that had to do with the community and just giving back to the community in whichever way possible,” Pelu says. 

“At the grassroots level, it’s meeting with everyday people. It’s a little bit different to working with athletes and high performance type roles. There’s a lot of variety in the role. I’m really enjoying it,” Ilai says.

From its humble exterior to its kindly donated equipment, it’s clear from the outset that this is no ordinary gym.

“I’ve worked with people with anxiety and depression, and seeing their body language change from the initial session to having worked with them for a few weeks, now you can see a big change in the demeanour and body language,” Pelu says.

Pelu Taele-Pavihi speaking with Tagata Pasifika reporter Anauli Karima Fai'ai. Photo: Supplied
Pelu Taele-Pavihi speaking with Tagata Pasifika reporter Anauli Karima Fai’ai. Photo: Supplied

It’s a place where physical health and good company go hand in hand.

“Majority of them come in and sit on the bike and they love to chat. You know, they talk to the person right next to them and find out they live next door to each other or they went to the same school,” Pelu says.

“I think it plays a big part for their mental wellbeing as well.”

This objective extends outside of the gym through a weekly walking group that Ilai also manages.

“It’s definitely a confidence boost. A lot of them, this will be their only exercise for the week,”  Ilai says.

“Sometimes when we’re walking and talking with them, they start to open up about other problems they’re going through.” 

For Ilai and Pelu, there’s no reward like giving back. 

“When you see those people coming back, and when you see their demons and the walls get broken down, it just puts such huge smile on your face; when you leave this place at the end of the day, wow, that was pretty raw and pretty touching,” Pelu says.

*This story was filmed before lockdown



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