Breaking barriers to a new way of life
Eugene's remarkable weight loss journey
Eugene Peni has always had an active lifestyle but he once tipped the scales at 162kg.
He says it was a combination of poor diet and a lack of knowledge about how to live healthily that did it.
Now his weight has dropped to 100kg and a lot of the people who once doubted he'd ever trim down are coming to him for advice.
He is happy to help and is working towards a diploma in sport fitness at Unitec so that he can do it professionally.
It is a big change for a man who had never thought a career in sports or physical activity was possible.
Things turned around when he discovered the Village Sports Academy founded by All Black legend Michael Jones.
A friend who tutored at the academy challenged him to join.
"That's a sports leadership academy and you don't really expect a big guy like I was to go into something like that," he says. "From there it was all about breaking a lot of barriers. Every person there was athletic and fit and I was an obese person and didn't think I should be in an environment like that."
Peni overcame his insecurities and knuckled down with the support and encouragement of his classmates and tutor.
It was not easy, especially the physical side of things, but he soon found his rhythm.
"For the first few months it was really hard, the physical stuff was a massive challenge and I was always last or at the back.
"But midway through is when a lot of things changed for me."
A low-carb diet that ruled out bread, rice and potatoes helped the weight fall off.
"I pretty much changed the whole lifestyle.
"Previously me in a gym would never happen, and the first time was really intimidating because as a really big person you think everyone is watching you and you think ‘what am I doing here, I should just go back outside'.
"It wasn't until after I lost the weight that I realised the people who were staring at me weren't looking at me like I shouldn't be there, but more like it was inspiring and ‘good on you'."
From there he realised he was "pretty good at losing weight" and the idea of making a career out of helping others in the same situation became a reality.
"My ultimate goal is to own my own gym and help people like I've been helped, but I'm a believer in needing smaller goals to reach that one so for now it's study and maybe personal training.
"But now I don't think so many things are impossible like I used to."
Village Sports Academy chairman Michael Jones says the course is designed to use sport to hook people into further education.
"Engaging young Maori and Pacific youth is an important part of the programme, but the course is really for everyone," he says.
- Central Leader
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