The devastating death of her beloved big sister led Auckland mum Tiffany Poa on an inspirational weight-loss journey, as well as an unexpected emotional voyage of self-discovery.
Ever since having her daughters – Kiana, 16, Kelly, 14, Kaya, four and two-year-old Kalia – Tiffany would make a New Year’s resolution every year to get fit and trim down. And, like most of us, she never kept it.
But last year was a different story. Still mourning the heart-breaking death of a baby daughter, who died 45 minutes after birth, and keenly aware as her youngest girl’s first birthday approached that she wasn’t as fit or as healthy as she wanted to be, Tiffany once again vowed to battle the bulge.
When she weighed herself on January 2, Tiffany tipped the scales at 140kg. For the mum-of-four, who had enjoyed playing sports in her teens, it was just the jolt she needed.
“It was the heaviest I’d been,” the 37-year-old recalls. “I just thought, ‘Nah.’ I didn’t like what I saw, what the scales looked like, everything.”
And then another tragedy struck. Tiffany’s much-loved sister Huia died suddenly of natural causes, four days before she was due to turn 41. Tiffany was devastated. Her wee baby – who died two days before Tiffany’s own birthday on October 2012 – had been named after her aunt Huia.
“My sister had struggled with mental illness and her weight for a long time,” tells Tiffany.
“She couldn’t have children. That really impacted on her. She was on a lot of medication which didn’t help with her weight. She tried to be as active as she could. She took part in activities that were organised by the support groups she attended, so she was trying.”
One of the last messages she’d received from Huia was that she was aiming to lose 20kg and wanted to be able to run 5km. It was just the incentive Tiffany needed, and she made a commitment to lose 20kg for her beloved sister and 20kg for herself.
“I had to deal with a lot of things when she passed away,” tells Tiffany.
“But in the end, I decided I could sit in a corner and cry about it or I could do something that she would be proud of, something I could give back to her. That was the beginning of wanting to lose weight – for her, for my baby, for my children and for me.”
Tiffany began walking, with the kids riding alongside on their bikes. They explored their neighbourhood around Mangere Bridge and got to know the various tracks through their local parks.
Still having doubts about whether she could stick to her goal, Tiffany dragged her children and 35-year-old husband Edward along to the Moana-Nui-a-Kiwa Pool and Leisure Centre. They were given individualised training programmes, which also included advice on overall health, wellbeing and nutrition.
It didn’t take long for the couple, who met at Burnham Military Camp while doing a volunteer course, to become hooked. They would be at the gym by 5.30am and then home in time for breakfast with the girls before they left for school.
From a family of big eaters, Tiffany had always been a good cook. She changed her diet, skipping takeaways and down-sizing meal servings. “The whole family ate better,” she explains.
Tiffany and Edward dove into group challenges at the leisure centre, and three months into the new regime, she’d shed 17.4kg.
Before long, Tiffany was looking for a new challenge. Her trainer mentioned there was a charity boxing match coming up at Supercity Boxing Gym. She would have 10 weeks to train and proceeds would go towards feeding low-income families. Tiffany was in.
Edward accompanied her to every training session and by weigh-in day, Tiffany was down to 110kg.
“I saw boxing as part of my weight-loss programme and part of trying to deal with everything that I had had to go through with my sister and within myself.”
The fight was set for October 1, 2016 – again, two days before her birthday. Winning it was going to be her gift to herself. But on the night, it meant far more than that.
“In the last round, I had next to no energy left,” recalls Tiffany. “Then I swore I heard my sister say, ‘Go, my sister!’
“In that moment, it felt like I was fighting for my life, fighting for everything that was in me. I wanted it really, really badly. I felt like I deserved it because I trained so hard for it.”
Tiffany won the match and, on her birthday, she grabbed her trophy, jumped in the car with Edward and their girls, and drove to Huia’s grave in Hamilton. “I took it to her, then cried and cried and cried. I told her, ‘I did it!’”
Tiffany’s now lost 50kg, and says she’s immensely grateful for the support she’s had from her whanau and the staff at the leisure centre. She hopes her journey will inspire other women to “give it a go”.
“As mums, we never seem to make time for ourselves,” she muses. “Losing weight wasn’t about changing who I am. It was just something I had to do. I know now that if there’s a goal I want to achieve – to fit
a dress, to run a bit further, whatever it may be – I can do it.”