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When I was small

Growing up

Growing up in Hastings in the early 1970s was a simple lifestyle. Our family didn’t have the luxury of an automobile. This meant we would catch the bus or taxi, rode a bicycle or walked to and from town.

On the weekends, I'd ride on my father’s carrier into the countryside to pick seasonal fruits, potatoes and onions etc…

I remember all the neighbourhood children used to congregate over in the park across the road from our house. We played bull rush or softball or soccer until it was too dark to see or we'd hear our mothers calling us home to tea or bed…

Our diet consisted of mainly meat which Dad bought home from the freezing works – mutton flaps and mutton chops, which were boiled with potatoes and cabbage, or legs of mutton normally roasted with a selection of root vegetables, boiled cabbage and mashed potato with carrot and parsnip mash. We also lived on sausages and three vegetables.

We also had staff sales from Wattie’s where Mum worked. It’s funny because the staff sales never had labels because the reason why they were sold to staff was because they had something wrong with them, ie dented cans or incorrect lid ID stamps. So our weekly meals also consisted of spaghetti or baked beans and our puddings of fruit salad or pears or peaches with ice cream.

When I was six or seven, I helped one of my sisters with her milk run (back then everyone got their milk delivered to the gate in bottles).When I was seven, I got a bike for Christmas and this meant I could get a job delivering papers. I delivered the Dominion in the morning and the Herald Tribune in the evening.

I continued doing this until I turned 13 and got a job at Kelly’s New World supermarket after school, pressing empty cardboard boxes into bails – a job I did for around a year.

Then one of the schoolboys, who was working in the shop filling shelves and packing groceries at the checkout, left and I was promoted to fill his position.

I still had my morning job delivering the Dominion, until at the age of 14 I found my social calendar was being affected by the early morning starts. I was making good money at Kelly’s especially during the holidays.

Eight-year-old Aaron in Rotorua with his family.

Beginning my career

After leaving school, I worked at Woolworth’s supermarket in the fruit and veggie department preparing veggies for display – cabbages, cauliflowers, lettuces etc and also stock control.

After a year of not seeming to be getting anywhere, I left Woolworths to work at Wattie’s where I got a job with a school friend whose father was charge hand for the clean up crew… The job entailed keeping the yard clean of spilled produce with the aid of a little tractor and a trailer.We also hosed down the canning line when the ladies went for a break.

Unfortunately, this was a seasonal job and, once the season was over, I became unemployed. It was the early 1980s and job prospects after the seasonal work dried up were very slim.

I was unemployed for a year or so and was working at the Salvation Army work skills and development programme in Hastings. Initially, I was a trainee for six months, which was the time people were to be on the course.

However, my supervisor suggested that I become a junior supervisor (the first ever person to be offered such a position). So I stayed there working in the motor pool, learning about maintenance for the programme’s many vehicles – trucks vans and cars… I also got my HT truck and trailer license and became one of the programme’s drivers.

Working in the Hutt

It was around this time that one of my aunties from Wainuiomata came through Hastings from Gisborne on her way back to Wellington and, when my mother told her that I was getting myself into trouble, it was decided that I would go to Wellington with her and get employment – and, mostly, get me away from my scallywag mates…

I went to Petone Polytechnic and studied to be a storeman for about six months, until I applied for a job in a factory which made under-felt and cleaning rags from the recycled clothing bins you see here and there.

I worked as a factory worker cutting up and bailing rags that were sold to industrial places and used for cleaning. It was a very boring and labour-intensive job, so I soon began looking for something more challenging.

I found a job advertised at a paint factory as a storeman, which I missed out on. However, the manager saw that I excelled at art and placed 'top of form' in my third and fourth form at high school. He offered me a position as colour matcher and so I gave it a go.

I seemed to pick up this job rather quickly and, after three or four months, became sole charge of the department and was put in charge of two other colour matchers… I really enjoyed the physical nature of the job and the challenge it gave me.

The company had a big change when they purchased a large paint manufacturing company in Upper Hutt, where I was sent to head the colour matching department and had five colour matchers working for me.

I was still living in Wainuiomata and travelling to Upper Hutt on a daily basis. I didn’t enjoy the travelling especially in winter when it sometimes snowed on the Rimutakas and was freezing in Upper Hutt – something that didn’t appeal to a Hastings boy.

Getting sick at work

The ex-technical service manager used to take me with him out to Mitsubishi in Porirua or the Ford Motor Company factory in Petone to show me how the paint lines worked. When he asked me if I would be interested in working for him in a business he was setting up in Petone spray painting corporate office furniture and applying specialised coatings on furniture etc, I said I would.

I resigned from the paint factory. By this stage, I'd gone flatting with one of my cousins in Alicetown, which is between Petone and Lower Hutt central.

I worked there for two years learning how to spray-paint furniture and automobiles. The job was very grubby because of all the preparation that goes into commercial painting and I got tired of always being covered in paint dust. I was also becoming sensitive to fumes.

I got a call from the paint factory one day because they'd got into a lot of trouble with the Upper Hutt factory and ended up closing it down and relocating to Petone, right around the corner from my flat.So I went back to the paint factory and helped design the layout for the new colour matching area.

I worked there for two years before I developed solvent sensitivity – a form of industrial poisoning. They gave me a golden handshake and I went onto an invalid’s benefit.

Moving back to Hawkes Bay to convalesce, I started to pile the weight on.

Aaron at 33 years of age.

After two years, I moved back to Wellington and found employment with one of the fishing companies that a flatmate was working for. I was very unfit and, with the respiratory problems bought on by the paint industry, I really struggled.

But, slowly, I became more and more able to perform. I started as a forklift driver and yard worker, loading containers and unloading fishing trawlers and other labour-intensive jobs. Then one day the boss was away and I was asked to weigh all the fish into the factory. This became my new job, along with delivering local orders to the supermarkets, restaurants, fish and chip shops and takeaway bars etc… I did this for six months or so and got to know all the customers well, especially the supermarkets.

In the early 90s, I began working for another fishing company in Wellington at their export factory, weighing in fish and selling fish in the mornings to the supermarkets, so I was selling fish for both fisheries. This confused the petrol station people when I filled up one company’s truck in the morning and the other’s van in the afternoon!

Owning a company

As if that wasn’t enough, I was asked by a son-in-law of the owner of a large fishing company (who were Italians) if I wanted to work for him selling Italian foodstuffs and so we started a company together. I continued to work for his father-in-law, but gave up my job with the other company.

After two years of working for the fishing company, we found the company we started was getting busy. We decided that I would work full time and so my mate took a mortgage out on his house. We got a building in Petone and, by 2002, the business had grown into a wholesale operation supplying 50 supermarkets and some of the best restaurants in the country.

We also had started a café and retail store in the front part of the warehouse, which grew so big that we had to rent a warehouse and split up the operation. I took control of the warehouse and, for two months of the year, controlled both operations when my business partner was in Italy purchasing more stock.

By 2005, we had a shop in Auckland, two in Wellington, one in Queenstown and one in Christchurch, as well as the warehouse facility and processing factory in Alicetown. We had a staff of 90. I was making good money, but working long hours and it was very stressful.

I spent most of my day behind a desk, unlike when the company started and I was the only employee who did everything from unloading containers to processing and delivering orders.

Health issues

I feel that, as time went by, my lack of mobility, combined with my eat-on-the-run habits and huge alcohol consumption, meant it slowly got harder to do a lot of the things I'd enjoyed. The other thing that started to affect me was depression bought on by the constant stress of running a business that was growing too fast.

In 2008, I developed carpal tunnel syndrome in both arms and, combined with the stress, I decided that I’d had enough. So I resigned my position, moving back to Hastings. I was in a bad way when I got home and the carpal tunnel syndrome was painful and took around nine months to settle down.

Coming right

At the end of 2009, my doctor saw that I was suffering from depression and, through Options, I was introduced to Community Connections. I was told that I was sort of like a test case.

I met Fiona, whose job was to get me back into the community and out of my bedroom which had become like a safe haven to me. Fiona also helped me to sort out my financial situation, which was dragging me down into a bottomless pit with no sign of light at the end of it.

I took up voluntary insolvency with the help of Community Connections and this took a load off my mind and kick-started my road to recovery.

I began attending a clinic for people suffering from COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). I attended the COPD gym at Hastings Memorial Hospital and, after six months, was offered a green script to attend one of the local gyms, Choices Gym. It took me three or four attempts to actually go inside the gym – I would sit in my car to afraid to enter.

One day, Fiona came to my place and asked if I wanted to go 10-pin bowling, something I used to enjoy when I lived in Wellington, so we made Thursday our 10-pin bowling day.

Another day Fiona asked me if I wanted to go for a coffee and talked me into going to have a look at Choices Gym, so off we went. One thing led to another and I became a member of the gym, which I enjoyed because there were no mirrors and the staff and other patrons were real people not posers.

Through Choices, I joined the Healthy Lifestyles group – led by Les Hokianga – whose holistic approach to healthy living appealed to me. I've become a member of his Hikoi 4 Life Whanau group.

I met a group of people who mentor me, especially the Tiaiti brothers who inspire me to do more all the time. Fiona helps keep me on track and her support was instrumental in my progress.

One of the first massive changes I noticed was that my respiratory condition improved to a stage where I no longer needed to carry oxygen bottles. I went from needing oxygen 18 hours a day to only requiring oxygen while I was using my VPAP (variable positive airway pressure) machine overnight.

I've trained with Les and his group for a cycling trip to Wellington. We presented the Maori Party leader Tariana Turia with a programme for healthy lifestyle living using the holistic approach and based on Dr Mason Durie's whare tapa wha model.

We also train for the Iron Māori and half Ironman events to be held in Napier at the end of the year.

Aaron on the Ōtaki to Wellington ride with Hikoi 4 Life Whanau.

While training for the Wellington Hikoi, I managed to get sponsorship from Avanti Cycles, who built me a road cycle and are continuing to maintain it with regular checks.I'm also being sponsored by Subway restaurant in Stortford Lodge who give me a free foot-long sub from the 'six grams of fat' range.

Since returning from the Wellington trip, I'm working an hour-a-day washing dishes as a volunteer, which is a great way to get a sweat going and I also feel like I’m giving something back to the franchise owners who've been fantastic to me.

Late last year, I joined Hawkes Bay Multi Sport and volunteer as a marshal at the various sporting events that they host. I'm currently working on getting back into the swimming pool and, hopefully, within a month my leg ulcer will have healed. Then my swim training can commence, because I am entering this year’s Iron Māori as a member of three-person team. I'll be swimming 2km, my friend will be cycling 90km and my brother will run the 21km event.

Light at the end of the tunnel

So at the moment, my week looks something like this:

  • Monday – 10am workout at Choices Gym till midday, then from 1pm to 2pm washing dishes at Subway. At 6pm it's walking with Hikoi 4 Life group up Te Mata Peak Road or along the Marine Parade in Napier
  • Tuesday – 10am workout at Choices Gym till midday, then I go to the district nurse to have my leg ulcer dressed. From 1pm to 2pm, it's Subway, then 3pm Kardio Boxing at Choices
  • Wednesday is an off day, so I only go to Subway from 1pm till around 3pm
  • Thursday is the same as Tuesday
  • Friday is the same as Monday, plus a midday visit to the district nurse to have my leg ulcer dressed
  • On Saturdays, I go out with the Iron Māori crew as the photographer and support crew
  • On Sunday, I normally go out with the Multi Sport crew and do marshalling

When I first met Community Connections and Fiona, I had plenty of time to meet with her any time and any day. But, as I became more confident and my circle of friends/support grew, it became difficult to fit my programme in with Fiona’s.

That to me is one of the greatest success stories of our association.

Without the assistance of Fiona and Community Connections, along with Les Hokianga and the Hikoi 4 Life Whanau, I'd be in a bad way – not only mentally, but physically and spiritually.

I now have light at the end of the tunnel and feel that I have a positive future ahead. I am going to continue to work on reducing my weight and eventually want to help other people the way Community Connections and the Hikoi 4 Life Whanau have and continue to help me.

This is a condensed version of my journey and I've approximated the timeline.

I hope my story will help other people to see that if you believe then you can achieve.

It's never too late to start turning your life around.

Trust me, it’s not easy. But as you start to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and with an open mind to the support that's offered, you can feel as I do now – excited about what the future has to offer.

When I was small

I started by telling you when I was small and I will leave you with this poem:

When I was small, things were so easy

I could run, jump, climb trees and play sports

As I grew older, living in a busy world, I gave up the ability to play

I became reliant on others and I lost my way

As I became big, things that were once easy became so difficult

And as my body rejected the actions that my mind remembered, I began to stumble

As I fell into a dark place, a hand reached out to me and guided me out

Now I can see the light, I’m working toward the time that I remember

When I was small

Next page: David


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