Sharyn Smart talked to a weightlifter who had beaten some pretty heavy odds.
Jayden Nepia lifted a national record in her first competition.
And now she is part of an International team competing in New Caledonia.
The Nelson athlete made her competitive debut in Christchurch in March and the Nelson teenager claimed a New Zealand record, lifting 55kg 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.”
The 18-year-old, who weighed in at just 46kg and 1.44m tall also narrowly missed taking out setting a new record for the snatch at the same competition.
But this is a weightlifter who was beating the weight odds from birth.
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 strong.
That strength was put to the test again two years ago.
“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 such cases reported 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.”
But with medication and treatment she has 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 in studies they are doing on Lipidystrophy with other people with this condition.
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,” her mum said.
“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. 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 to meet one of the greats in the sport.
“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 McKenzie and had the nickname ‘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.”
“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 heads away to her next 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.”
This week Jaydene, Lorraine, Grayson and fellow club mate Luke Smith joined the NZ Weightlifting team for the Oceania Champs in New Caledonia.
“It is only my second competition and my first time ever out of the country so my coach wants me to focus on coming home with a good total and just do my best. I am going over to represent my country and my family. I’m gunning for the top (gold) which I say out of confidence and not arrogance.
“I was always told ‘Who trains for second?’ That is one of the many sayings I base my motivation on.”
Jaydene’s mum says her daughter 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!”
This article was published in the Taranaki Daily News on Saturday May 31, 2014