Buck Shelford’s back and better than ever

While tackling a health crisis, the All Black legend reveals why he's putting on his game face again

He’s conquered the rugby field and received a knighthood in the Queen’s Birthday Honours, now Sir Wayne “Buck” Shelford wants to be the next Celebrity Treasure Island champion. And though at 63 he’s the oldest member of the star-studded cast, the All Black legend knows he will be a force to be reckoned with in the demanding physical challenges.

“I like going to the gym and keeping fit,” Buck shares. “When I was the coach on Match Fit [a show getting former All Blacks back into match shape], working out with those guys was easy! Some of the guys were saying to me, ‘How can you still do this? You’re 15 years older than me!'”

In fact, Buck jokes the only preparation he did for Celebrity Treasure Island was, “I just went and bought some new clothes!”

As a former professional athlete, health has always been an important part of the father-of-two’s life, but it became even more so after he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2007. With some extra reading time on his hands during treatment, Buck found himself delving into other men’s health issues and was shocked to learn how little information there was about prostate cancer at the time. So, in addition to touring the country giving talks on health and wellness, Buck has spent the past 13 years raising awareness of the silent killer as an ambassador for the Prostate Cancer Foundation.

“It’s about teaching our young men to check themselves. We just don’t know when one of these cancers could knock us down. When I had my cancer, I was still running around doing my thing as a coach and then all of a sudden I had a weeping eye, and that’s where I found my cancer, in the back of my eye.”

But as he fights for the $100,000 prize pool on Celebrity Treasure Island, it is mental health that Buck wants to support. His chosen charity, Te Kiwi Maia, provides care for frontline workers and service people who have been injured, mentally or physically, in the line of duty. As a former navy man himself, the cause is close to Buck’s heart.

“It’s about having some refuge for them to go to when they spiral down. Trying to find an awareness and when they do start spiralling down, they have somewhere to go. The idea of Te Kiwi Maia is that you come in and relax, and be in a place of safety, with doctors there already.”

Over the years, Buck has fielded plenty of offers to appear in celebrity competition shows, but has always turned them down, admitting, “I don’t really class myself as a celebrity – I am just an ex-rugby player.”

But, with his children all grown up with kids of their own, and his business running smoothly, Buck shares that it finally felt like the right time to give it a go.

“I’m less than two years away from getting a gold card, so I’m trying to chill out a little bit more,” he tells. “They asked me last time and I turned it down, so when I got the call again, I said, ‘Oh yeah, why not?!’ It’s a way of getting out of general society and doing something quite different. I’m into different.”

The final six

Going on Celebrity Treasure Island meant not being able to speak to his family for a month while they filmed up in Northland. Between his time in the navy and his international rugby career, Buck is no stranger to being away from his family for long periods, but this time was a little harder as he was leaving behind his four moko (grandkids).

As he talks about his “jewels,” the doting Koro (granddad) beams with pride.

“We have fun with them. We take them to the park and to the ocean for walks. The two girls, they’re older so they play a lot with me, and we give each other frights.”

And though they are only eight and five, the girls are already displaying their koro’s strength.

“They’re getting tougher now that they’re older,” he tells. “When they fall, they don’t complain – they just get up and get on with it.”

While he is a hands-on grandpa, Buck admits there’s one thing he’s not willing to do. “I let my wife do the changing of the nappies.”

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