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Jonah Lomu’s fight for family

The All Black legend is determined to combat poverty – the hard way.

By Catherine Milford
Jonah Lomu is arguably New Zealand's most famous All Black, but he's become almost as well-known for his ill health as his skills on the field. So when the giant rugby legend decided he was going to live on $2.25 per day for a week for charity – joined by his wife, Nadene, and his two preschool-age boys – eyebrows were raised.
But although Jonah is still having dialysis three times a week, and will continue to do so until – and if – a kidney donor is found for him, he insists that his decision to "live below the line" to raise money for Unicef will do more good than harm.
"I want to teach the boys the value of food – of what they have," says Jonah (37), who along with Nadene (34) and their boys Brayley (3) and Dhyreille (2), will live for five days on a total budget of $45 to raise money for children suffering from malnutrition.
Nadene says she taught Jonah to shop for bargains.
"I was originally asked to be a coach for the project, but when I found out that it's not just kids in Third World countries – 40% of kids in the South Pacific aren't growing at the right rate because of malnutrition – I wanted to take part in it.
"Everyone is quick to tell me what I should and shouldn't do – but I'm not doing anything stupid. I'm actually a lot better, I've put on 18kg and my body is better balanced than it was. "I have a whole lot of drugs I have to take, and I will do for the rest of my life, but this is worthwhile."
"A lot of people are worried that Jonah won't get enough to eat – but it's actually doable, as long as we are sensible, plan our meals and budget wisely," says Nadene, who cooks muffins in batches of 100 to feed her hungry family. "I love baking, so we will get all the goodness my family needs."
Jonah and Nadene are a pretty good team in the kitchen. "Jonah does the roasting and main meals, I do the desserts," says Nadene. The pair have already worked out a strategy to get through the week. Having shopped around, they have found a bag of flour for $5, which Nadene will use for bread and cakes, while Jonah has discovered a hidden gem – chicken frames, which he can buy by the box for $7.
"It's all he talks about – he's obsessed with them!" laughs Nadene. "Look how much you can do with them!" Jonah insists. "They come with meat already on them which you can use and you can boil them up and make stock which you can use with rice or to make soup."
"Everything we do – including this challenge – we do because of our boys," says Jonah.
There's no doubt Jonah is still sick – he tires easily and there is a permanent bruise on his left arm from the dialysis treatments he has for six hours at a time. But he is determined to lead as normal a life as he can, and to teach his boys that not everyone is as fortunate as they are. He and Nadene are aware the week won't be easy.
"Nadene and Brayley are both really fussy eaters – Brayley won't eat rice unless it's prepared the right way and he's not that keen on veges," says Jonah. "But Dhyreille's like me. He eats anything!" Having two young children is exhausting for any parents, and there is no doubt Dhyreille is just as much of a firecracker as his dad – the energetic two-year-old is already a dab hand with a ball.
"Not just a rugby ball either – any ball he can find!" smiles Jonah affectionately, as Dhyreille grabs a toy from his big brother and runs with it – a move that's remarkably familiar to Dad. "He's exactly like I was as a kid, which does worry me sometimes because I didn't always make the best decisions. But as long as I can set a good example, he'll be okay. "For Nadene and I, these boys are it. Everything we do – including this challenge – we do because of our boys."
Jonah and Nadene's top tips for living below the line:
  • Look around for the best value. Different shops will have different bargains.
  • Work together as a group. Buying in bulk saves money.
  • Look for seasonal produce and think up different ways of using it. A roasted pumpkin is really cheap and versatile, and will do for several meals.
  • Ensure you have enough protein. Mince is great value, but lentils and chicken are another healthy, cheap option.
  • Never go to the supermarket when you're hungry!

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