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Dancing star Dave and wife Koreen: ‘Our rocky road to wedded bliss’

The former boxer reveals how he and his wife had to fight for their relationship

The saying goes that behind every successful man is a woman, but Dancing With The Stars favourite Dave Letele insists that’s not the case for him.

Yes, there’s a strong wahine who helped him move from a career as a professional boxer to a fitness entrepreneur and social activist, but his wife Koreen is very much beside him, rather than standing in his shadow.

Not only has she saved him emotionally, but Koreen was key when it came to Dave – the Kiwibank Local Hero of the Year for 2022 – establishing his Buttabean Motivation (BBM) exercise and nutrition programmes. And just recently, she’s helped him finish his autobiography, No Excuses: My Story.

“It just wouldn’t have been possible without Koreen,” Dave, 43, tells Woman’s Day. “I didn’t really want to do the book, to be honest, because there are a lot of bad memories and tough times. But there is also so much good, which Koreen helped

me achieve.

“I came from a background of gangs. I’ve been in the gutter with nothing, I’ve been at the top in business and I’ve been everywhere in between. This book shows our youth that it’s possible to do anything you want. It’s a story of redemption.”

When Dave met Koreen in 2014, he admits he was “in bad shape physically, worse mentally”, having just lost custody of his three sons, William, then 12, Tavita, eight, and Fabian, five. “I remember crying and Koreen offering to pay for me to go to Australia to see my kids. She has always been there for me.”

As he began his weight-loss journey, Koreen, 37, encouraged Dave to post inspirational updates on social media. After he’d dropped an incredible 90kg, her father asked Dave to help a friend of his, starting what is now BBM.

Dave acknowledges it was tough for Koreen in the early days. She was a successful businesswoman who, within days of their 2017 wedding, found out they were having a baby. By this time, Dave had regained custody of his sons and they were all living together in a friend’s garage.

Koreen recalls, “Someone had to stay home with the kids to make sure they were fed, did their homework and give them that stable life. When I realised I was pregnant too, I gave up my business.

“I was learning how to bring up three preteens and I felt like I was losing Dave at the same time because BBM was just starting to become something.”

Nodding, Dave adds, “That was tough for her because she didn’t really feel a part of it any more.”

But Koreen insists, “It was hard for Dave too. He had a wife who was pregnant and moaning that she was giving up her life!”

The couple tied the knot on Waiheke Island.

It should have been a honeymoon period for the couple, but it got even more emotionally draining when Dave’s sister Vicky died of bowel cancer after being released from prison on compassionate grounds. To make matters worse, Koreen suspects she was also possibly struggling with postnatal depression.

She recalls, “Our boy Brook was born in an emergency C-section and he had a short tongue, so he was hard to feed. People would say how special it was for Dave to have a new baby as he’d lost his sister, but this was my first baby too and I felt lost.”

Fortunately, Koreen eventually found her mojo, formed a loving bond with the older boys and relished becoming a homemaker when the family bought their rural West Auckland property.

“Every year has just got better and better, and the boys are living their best lives now,” she grins proudly, adding that she’s also rebuilt her connection to BBM, becoming a qualified personal trainer and helping run fitness classes.

With their kids (from left) Brook, William, Tavita and Fabian.

Dave is grateful that Koreen’s constant support means hecan travel to Tokoroa, where he’s established Aotearoa’s first “social supermarket” and fitness complex, a place wherepeople doing it tough can “shop” for what they need and get help staying healthy.

In the next five years, Dave would ideally like to reduce the 100+ hours a week he is now working.

“I could easily live very comfortably just doing public speaking and my online fitness app,” he confesses.

“I’d be far less stressed, but unfortunately, poverty isn’t going anywhere. I really want to help people. We’ve got mums struggling to feed their children and going to extreme lengths, like selling their bodies, dealing drugs and stealing.

“We’re breaking that cycle by showing that there’s hope and a different path that you can take. If you can help, you should – and the feeling I get from helping just one person is indescribable.”

And that is why Koreen supports Dave and is willing to share her husband with so many others around the country.

“I am 100% behind him and what he wants to achieve,” she smiles. “He has such a big heart.”

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