Jaydene shows strength from start

JOHNATHAN MCKEOWN
Last updated 12:58 31/03/2014
Hoddy Estuary Park
MARION VAN DIJK/FAIRFAX NZ
PROUD PAIR: Lorraine Staunton with her daughter Jaydene Nepia, 18, who broke a New Zealand weightlifting record and was named in the NZ Squad for the Oceania championships.

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Jaydene Nepia's fight for life started in the womb.

Doctors told her mother, Lorraine Staunton, she should abort her baby after scans detected numerous problems.

At Jaydene's birth in Auckland Hospital she was only 2.9 pounds (1321g), and specialists said she would not survive.

But they reckoned without Jaydene's strength.

It has seen her not only survive but flourish, and now the 18-year-old has broken a New Zealand record in her first weightlifting competition.

Jaydene spent the first six weeks of her life in an incubator but was "healthy" for most of her childhood.

However, her battles were far from over. At 16, Jaydene's health had deteriorated so much doctors said that she could die from a heart attack "at any moment".

She was finally diagnosed with congenital generalised lipodystrophy, a condition characterised by an extreme scarcity of fat.

There have only been 250 cases of the condition reported worldwide, three in New Zealand.

Two years on from the diagnosis, Jaydene entered her first weightlifting competition.

She won the title and made the New Zealand team for the Oceania champs.

Her mother, a registered nurse who works for Plunket in Nelson, said Jaydene was unique in many ways but it was her faith in God that helped her fight on.

"I was just reflecting on it, just how amazing this is," Lorraine said.

"The doctors told me to abort her when I was pregnant with her. Coming from that, right from birth it has been a battle, a fight for life.

"And to see her today, it is nothing short of miraculous."

Medication and treatment have helped Jaydene resume a normal life, while performing extraordinary feats.

Jaydene is also helping scientists with research as she is involved with a study at the University of Cambridge.

"The doctors said that within the first year of treatment it is miraculous that she got the results she had.

"They though it would be years and years before they had it under control, but it was only months."

The treatment and a suggestion from close family friend and Jaydene's mentor, Sam Barrett, gave Jaydene a new focus.

Through weightlifting she went from worrying about getting better to getting better results and Lorraine said that a specialist told the family that weightlifting contributed to Jaydene's health.

Tipping the scales at just 46 kilograms competing in the under-48kg division, the Nelson Weightlifting Club rep lifted 55kg in the clean and jerk at the Christchurch invitational on Sunday. She was only 2kg shy of the record in the snatch, lifting the record weight but not quite holding.

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The overall win in her competition debut means the early childhood education trainee will represent New Zealand in the junior women's section at the New Caledonia Oceania champs in May. But that may be just the beginning of her weightlifting career.

"We had former Olympian coaches say she will be strongly looked at in the future for Commonwealth Game if she continues to do as well as she has started out," said Lorraine.

Ed Keene, Jaydene's coach at the Nelson Weightlifting Club, is impressed by Jaydene's commitment to training and competitive spirit which have seen her come a long way since she started in the sport.

"She is setting New Zealand records and this is her first competition we had on Sunday. She is in a sport she has only been doing for 12 months.

"She is a standout and she still has another year and a half as a junior."

Jaydene said she always felt she had the inner strength to break the record, and also had the physical force to match it.

"It was a record lift, but I didn't think it would be that easy. It's all about training hard."

Looking to her mother for inspiration and positivity where she has always found it, Jaydene said she drew on her past trials and triumphs to help her during the

hard times.

"I was two pounds when I was born and the doctors didn't expect me to live. I wasn't born premature, I was just really sick and underweight. They didn't expect me to have a very good life.

"I could have died a couple of years ago, with how sick I was. I used that to motivate me to push harder and I use a lot of positive thinking.

"With what I have been through, I wanted to make a better life for myself. It makes me feel like I can help inspire other people with what I have been through and what I have done."

Jaydene hoped her mum and sister could be with her when she competes for her country in New Caledonia.

Finding the money to make that trip is another challenge, but it will probably not stop this tight, single-parent family. They are planning to fundraise and looking for sponsorship opportunities for the budding young athlete.

- Nelson

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