Sharyn Smart talks with Jaydene Nepia

Weightlifting: Jaydene Nepia is easily lifted by her mentor Precious McKenzie.

Weightlifting: Jaydene Nepia is easily lifted by her mentor Precious McKenzie.

Jaydene Nepia power lifts a NZ record at first ever competition

After only a year in the sport Nelson’s Jaydene Nepia is taking the New Zealand weightlifting world by storm as she sets new records and wins gold.

In only her third competition the gutsy teenager reset the New Zealand junior clean and jerk record to 56kg while competing at the South Island weightlifting championships in June.  Jaydene broke her own previous NZ record by 1kg.

“I was stoked that I got a medal, it’s a huge achievement and my first gold.  I wanted to lift my best and win for my niece.

“I received the news that my niece had just been born and only had a couple of days to live.  I flew home to Rotorua to meet her almost straight after my competition.  I had very mixed emotions.  She was a little fighter and died on her one week birthday.”

At her competitive debut at the Christchurch invitational in March the 18-year-old claimed a New Zealand record lifting 55kgs in the Clean & Jerk under 48kg division.

“I felt so proud of myself.  I just threw the bar down and walked off to give Ed (my coach) a big hug.  I didn’t realise I had done it (won) until it had been officially announced.”

Weighing in at just 46kg and 1.44m tall she narrowly missed taking out the NZ record of 45kg for the snatch at the same competition as she lifted 43kg.

In May Jaydene, Lorraine, Grayson and fellow club mate Luke Smith joined the NZ Weightlifting team and went to the Oceania Champs in New Caledonia.

“It was only my second competition and I aimed for the top (gold) which I say out of confidence and not arrogance but unfortunately it was not to be on the day.

“I was always told ‘Who trains for second?’ That is one of the many sayings I base my motivation on.”

Jaydene was born at 37 weeks only weighing 2.9 pounds (1321g) and spent six weeks in the Neo-Natal Unit.  She has remained small but has always been really strong, something she has proven again and again growing up.

“At 16 my health suddenly deteriorated and I was extremely ill.  I was eventually diagnosed with congenital generalised lipodystrophy, characterised by an extreme scarcity of fat.

“There are only 250 reported cases worldwide.  I make up a group of three in New Zealand.  Doctors were very concerned for my health as this condition can cause serious life threatening issues.”

“With the right medication and treatment I’ve been able to lead a remarkable life.  Also my family and I strongly believe that having faith in god has helped me fight on and come out a winner!”

Jaydene’s mum Lorraine Staunton said when Jaydene was given the opportunity to take part in a research project on Lipidystrophy they immediately agreed.

“The University of Cambridge research team in the UK invited Jaydene to participate with studies they are doing on Lipidystrophy with other people who have this condition from around the world.  She happily contributes to this when needed.”

“The research has shown that she carries a certain gene that doesn’t seem to be present in other ethnicities.  It has been queried as to whether Jaydene being Maori was the significant difference.”

“Specialists have told her it should have taken many years to recover to the degree that she has managed to achieve in only a few months. The research is ongoing.”

Close family friend and mentor Sam Barrett encouraged her to ‘come along to the gym to have a look’ in February 2013 and Jaydene was hooked immediately.

“As soon as I walked into the gym I was told that I was built for weightlifting because of my physique.  It has definitely helped keep me active and healthy.”

Ed Keene from the Nelson Weightlifting Club realised her exceptional abilities early on and has been working as her coach for the past 12 months.

“She started off like most would, very inflexible and struggling with some of the techniques.  She very, very, quickly turned into the perfect candidate.  She stretched out, she was flexible very quickly and she clicked onto the techniques really quickly.  She has been a real gem to coach.  She’s just one of those that picks it up and just goes with it. She’s an exceptional weightlifter.”

The young weightlifter has also had an opportunity that some of us could only dream of.

“Lorraine said she was thinking about contacting Precious McKenzie when they next went to Auckland.  I said that’s the perfect person to give her some advice because he is of similar stature and has struggled with people’s image of what weightlifters should be like.”

“He is someone her height, who has done really well in a sport that is predominately dominated by tall muscly guys.  If you could get onto him that would be great.  That would be the sort of person Jaydene needs to get some advice and tips from.”

Jaydene has been likened to the world famous Precious McKenzie, earning her the name ‘Little Precious’.

“Mum got in contact with him in October last year to see if we could possibly meet up while we were in Auckland.  He was more than happy.  We were able to spend a few hours with him and even met his wife.”

“What really impressed me was that Precious McKenzie took the time out of his day to spend a bit of time with me.  It was kind of surreal at first.  I mean he is a LEGEND!  He is so real and down to earth. ”

She is privileged to have his support and knowledge on her team but is quick to add “I’m a little taller”.

Precious McKenzie strongly believes in helping others and enjoys sharing his extensive knowledge of the weightlifting world.

“I’m very pleased she came and asked me for advice.  You have to pass it on – that is my belief.  If you have talent, pass it on.  Young people today want to emulate you.”

“I believe I am a people’s person, especially with children.  I’ve always been helpful with the young people.  I believe they are the people of tomorrow.  Any fans too, I respect them because they respect me so well.  So I have to do exactly the same thing back. “

“If you learn the proper technique in the beginning you won’t lose it.  If you have bad habits or bad coaching you will never succeed because everything depends on technique today.  The more technical you are you will succeed because strength is only secondary.”

Precious is well-known for his humble dignity and likeable personality.  He has been labelled one of the ‘all-time greats’ and uses his world champion winning experiences to be a role model to inspire young and old.

“You go there to do your best.  If someone beats you, they are the best.  You don’t have grudges as a sportsman.  If someone beats you, go and shake his hand and say ‘you are the better one for today’.  I always say ‘next time I will try and beat him’.

“Don’t talk small – talk big.  You succeed when you talk big. You don’t try to beat somebody because you hate them.  You beat somebody to be the champion – that’s all it is.”

“One must never look down on someone else just because that person didn’t achieve.  Sometimes they didn’t because they didn’t work hard enough. There is always someone to beat.  If you win a world record, then that world record is there to be broken.”

‘Respect for everyone and anyone’ plays a leading role in the life of Precious McKenzie.

“I wouldn’t be successful without my good wife.  The wife is the one that looks after you.  She prepares good food for me and looks after me which if it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t be successful.  I respect my wife.  She is always behind me supporting me.”

His message to Jaydene as she enters each competition is “She must train hard and mustn’t despair.  Just keep training.  If she doesn’t feel good one day, there is another day coming when she will feel better.”

Having the unconditional love and support of her mother Lorraine and sister Grayson,16, is precious for Jaydene.

“My Mum has been my rock pretty much.  She has sacrificed her studies and everything, especially over these last few months, organising and making all of this possible.  My sister has been awesome.  She’s good at keeping me on track and focused.”

Lorraine is extremely proud to be able to share this experience with both her daughters whom she has raised as a single parent for the last 15 years.

“To see her today is nothing short of miraculous.    To be told to abort my baby when I was first pregnant with Jaydene and now to look at my beautiful girl and know what she has overcome and become today brings so much joy to my heart knowing that I made the right choice.  She was born a champion and is destined for greatness!”



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