Mum came to the door of my old sleep out; with a tear in her eye and said to me “Why aren’t you boxing anymore? What are you doing? You are breaking your dad’s heart.” This was New Years Eve of 1981, and I hadn’t boxed for nearly 2 years.
From the age of 8, I’d been on this solo journey; at the gym 5-6 days per week, running the streets of Burnside and Redwood in the dark and freezing cold winter mornings and at boxing competitions all over the country. But over the past few years, I’d drifted further away from boxing, instead finding joy playing team sports alongside my mates. I’d fallen in love with Rugby League, playing for Marist-Western over the winter, cricket in the summer and no doubt socialising and drinking way too much, as most 19-year olds do.
I’d previously beaten many guys who were now representing New Zealand, and my mum wanted that legacy for me. I thought, what the heck. I love my parents to bits and if it’ll make them happy, I will give it my best. I made a promise to my mum, that I would start back boxing training on January 1st.
The New Zealand trials were 8 weeks away, and I wanted to be ready for them. I’d made a promise to mum that I would get a Silver Fern for her and my dad; for all the hard work he had put in and for me, so that later in life, when I had a family of my own, I could tell my kids that I had represented New Zealand.
I slipped on my running shoes and headed off from my parents’ home in Redwood, along Prestons Rd, all the way to Mairehau and back. It was January 1st, the hot blazing sun was beating down and given I hadn’t exactly frequented the gym over the past 2 years, it nearly killed me!
For the next 8 weeks I trained my butt off.
My first fight back was the NZ trials in Greymouth. I fought a guy by the name of Grenville Reihana. He’d come up through the grades and hadn’t lost for several years. I won easily.
Three weeks later came the second NZ trial. Canterbury Boxing flew a young guy down from Wellington, who was doing pretty well up there. The fight took place in Christchurch, and I stopped him after a couple of rounds.
The final NZ trial was against a guy my dad was also training, Vivian Schwalger. We fought in Timaru, and I managed to beat him, and subsequently was picked for the NZ team to compete at the 1982 Oceania Games in Auckland. Mission accomplished – I had told mum I would do it, and now I had. She was over the moon. Dad was also selected to coach the NZ B team, so he too had earned his Silver Fern, making it extra special.
I went to the Oceania Games, with the attitude, that I’d lived up to my promise, so if I got beaten, it didn’t matter, and soon I could get back to playing Rugby League with my mates.
We arrived in Auckland; I had my New Zealand tracksuit on with the Fern on it. It was a very cool moment, instilling a lot of pride in me.
My first fight, I drew a guy called Benny Pike. Everyone was saying ‘the fight’s a forgone conclusion.’ Benny Pike was expected to win the Light Heavyweight division. He had already represented Australia at multiple Commonwealth and Olympic Games and won medals. Two years earlier, he was fighting at the Olympics in Moscow, and here he was fighting some young, inexperienced kid from Christchurch, who had only recently started boxing again, and was representing NZ for the first time.
Again, I went in thinking, “Oh well, I’ve lived up to the promise made to my mum, so if he beats me, he beats me. I wasn’t too worried.” However, I have a big heart and was going to fight my very best and give it my all.
Long story short, I beat him and went on to win gold at the Oceania Championships. The very next day, I was chosen to represent NZ at the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane.
As history has it, I claimed the Bronze Medal for NZ.
I should have been having the time of my life. The only trouble was that every time I went near a boxing environment, I’d get extremely anxious. I got nervous and absolutely hated it.
I don’t know if it was all the pressure I put on myself, perceived pressure from others or what it was. But all I could think about was; I didn’t sign up for this. I should be home kicking a ball around and having fun with my mates. What was worse was that in 1983 you couldn’t talk about this kind of stuff. If you said anything about nerves or anxiety, you were thought of as weak. And the very last thing a fighter ever wants to show is weakness.
I built up the courage and had a conversation with my dad. At first he struggled to understand it, and said I just needed to believe in myself more and that I was better than I thought I was. Then, as he did a couple of times in my life, completely shocked me. He took me to meet a guy and said, “I want you to give this a try.” It was hypnotherapy – or as it is commonly known today – Positive Programming of the Mind. I started going a couple of times per week, but never spoke about it with anyone.
35 years ago, this was pretty edgy stuff and if people knew they would think you were crazy or something. But after a couple of months, I started to feel differently. It was the hours of lying in a lazy boy chair and being put in a trance, and by listening to my tutors voice, programming positive thoughts and energies into my subconscious; so that when I had feelings of anxiety I could turn this negativity into a positive force to visualize what I wanted to achieve and make it happen. The anxiety disappeared and I learned to control my emotions. I truly fell in love with boxing.
In 1983, in Sydney, I won gold at the Oceania Championships and also won gold at the Commonwealth Championships in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I was getting to travel the world and winning international fights; and in 1984 I won gold at the Oceania’s in Taiwan, won Silver at the King’s Cup in Bangkok and won a silver medal for NZ at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles. NZ’s first boxing medal in 56 years.
I had learned to control my emotions and was loving my chosen sport. The sport I started with my dad as an 8-year-old and a journey that took me around the world and moulded my life. All on a promise that I had made to my Mother several years earlier.
Thanks to NZOC for the use of their images.