Strong man v cancer
Diagnosis a huge 'psychological blow' for athleteJULIAN RAETHEL
Pulling 15 tonne trucks and lifting 100 kilogram stones is what Reuben de Jong is known for as a strongman competitor.
So even his battle with cancer wasn't going to stop him.
The past 11 months have been the toughest of the 34-year-old's life.
But the strongman has refused to quit after being given the bad news last April.
"I was putting off going to the doctor," he says.
"I just didn't feel right, it sounds vague but you just know."
His mother, Sharon, died four years ago from cancer and he says the news of his own diagnosis made it very "raw".
"Having to watch someone you love pass away is very hard," he says.
"So this was a huge psychological blow - I'm young, fit and strong.
"I was thinking, ‘How did this happen to me'?"
Standing at a towering two metres and weighing 125kg, Mr De Jong is hard to miss.
The Henderson resident has competed in every combative sport imaginable, including karate, kickboxing, cage fighting and even professional wrestling.
He broke the Guinness World Record for running through the most panes of tempered glass in one minute and has starred in movies and television.
Fans of the television programme Spartacus will know Mr De Jong in his gruesome role as the villain, Theokoles.
He's also done a handful of movies including The Warrior's Way.
"I've been lucky enough to land roles like that," he says.
"Filming on Spartacus was rigorous, we're talking about 14 to 16 hour days."
But no test was bigger than his chemotherapy treatment a month after his diagnosis.
"The chemo was horrible and it was hard mentally to even get out of bed.
"But the gym has always been my anchor point, I decided I was going to kill the cancer."
It wasn't long before he was back in the gym and at his job in security, despite doctors' orders.
Mr De Jong decided to keep his illness a secret to avoid any unwanted attention so he could focus on training and getting better.
"Not many knew about my cancer, not even close friends and family.
"My training buddy Gareth Eley encouraged me a lot.
"It was a bit demoralising going from being one of the strongest guys in the country to not even being able to open a can of tuna."
Mr De Jong needed a change of scene and switched to the Strong Factory gym in New Lynn in December.
Since then his blood count is clean and he is confident he's kicked his cancer.
This year he will compete in the New Zealand Strongest Man competition at the Easter Show.
"I do tire out a lot quicker but I am feeling stronger.
"If I can push the main guys and place in the top three I'll be happy."
- Western Leader
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