Getting involved with the Taranaki Toa Mounga tri-series has been just one step in Piripi Tuna's journey back to a fitter and healthier self.
Piripi, who works as a recovery support worker in the Tui Ora residential homes, swam the leg for his team in both the Whaitara and Opunake tri-series challenges in April this year. He was joined by colleague Tom Atkins (Recovery Support), and Philemon Matoe, brother of Moira Corrigan in Residential Support, who made up the tri-team: Team Tuna.
It was two years ago that Piripi realised he had to do something to improve his health. Frequent trips to the hospital and a visit from his mokopuna who was worried that Grandad "was going to die", was the wake-up call he needed.
"I was not looking after myself. I had diabetes, asthma, sleep apnea. I was constantly breathless. My whānau were all worried about me, but because I wasn't helping myself they felt helpless. I finally realised I needed to get off the couch."
Understanding he would need to ease himself back in to activity Piripi started aqua jogging. He soon moved on to freestyle, which he does with a snorkel and mask, and he is now capable of swimming 30 lengths in one session.
It was a fellow swimmer, Bernadette O'Carroll, in Whaitara who encouraged Piripi to enter the Mounga tri-series.
"At first I was a bit reluctant but Bernadette kept badgering me and in the end I thought: why not? The thing I really like about the Mounga challenge is that it's not a competition. It's about taking part. I was surrounded by lots of like-minded people who were in a similar situation to me and I found that really encouraging."
Piripi has been in good company. Tui Ora kaimahi George Rapana, Lyn Hoskin, Maxine Reriti, Tamara Ruakere, Janine Lineham and Hayden Wano have also taken part in the challenges.
Since he started training Piripi has noticed some really positive changes in his life. Not only has he lost 40 kilos, but his diabetes is in remission and he no longer dependent on his inhalers. He also made changes to his diet - making healthier choices and eating less.
"I feel so much more positive about life and feeling good about yourself makes everything easier and so much better."
In his work Piripi is supporting clients who have a history of drug and alcohol abuse and mental health illnesses. The residential homes are designed as a short to medium term solution during which time Piripi and his colleagues teach residents to be independent.
"What we do is help people to help themselves. Housework, cooking, cleaning, shopping - we teach them how to do it all so that they feel confident doing it themselves, but we take it one step at a time so it's never too much."
Asked if he's going to do more triathlons in the future Piripi just smiles but I think you could safely bet on him being at the start line, goggles in place, ready to take the plunge.
Tui Ora sponsors the Taranaki Toa Mounga tri-series, a low cost, entry level triathlon that encourages whanau to get involved. For more information please visit the Taranaki Toa website(external link)