Wheel Black's big plans

WHEEL BLACK: Tainafi Lefono will make his return to the Wheel Blacks at the Canada Cup in June.
WHEEL BLACK: Tainafi Lefono will make his return to the Wheel Blacks at the Canada Cup in June.

Wheel Black Tainafi Lefono plans to be the first tetraplegic to complete a bachelor of physiotherapy in New Zealand.

Lefono, 28, is in his fourth year of study at Auckland University of Technology and admits it has been tough but rewarding.

He broke his neck playing rugby in 2007.

The Mt Eden resident has always had a love for sport and fitness but it was during his spinal rehabilitation that he grew to really appreciate physiotherapy.

"I knew before getting into the course that the practical side was going to present some challenges," he says.

For some practical assessments Lefono uses a rehab assistant who he gives verbal instructions to, meaning he needs extensive knowledge of correct procedures.

His neck injury happened during a pre-season game for the Otago premier team. At the time he was in his second year of studying health science at Otago University.

"A lot of questions started running through my head, what was I going to do now?" Lefono says.

"What kind of life will I have? How will my family cope?"

"This began a journey of hardships and triumphs as I carved out a new life for myself."

Aside from his study Lefono keeps up his love for sport as a member of the Wheel Blacks wheelchair rugby team.

He has been named as part of the 10-strong squad to contest the Canada Cup in June.

It will mark his return to the national side after a two-year hiatus to concentrate on his studies.

Lefono's Wheel Black coach Peter Martin says the Samoan's inclusion is a welcome addition to the team.

"He's picking concepts up quick, what's letting him down is lack of fitness," Martin says. "I still think there's time, he's getting fitter and you can see that."

Lefono has admitted it has been tough re-entering the team and he has had to work hard to catch up to his team-mates.

He trains six days a week while continuing his study and working at Middlemore Hospital.

Lefono is looking forward to no longer being a "poor university student" and getting out into the workforce.

"I have a passion for public health, especially helping to prevent lifestyle diseases affecting Pasifika," he says.

"Other areas I am interested in are neuro rehab, especially stroke and spinal cord rehab and I also have keen interest in fitness and nutrition."

Central Leader