Real Life

Chris McKenzie’s fight of his life

The Maori party candidate has a new lease on life.

Father-of-four Chris McKenzie is physically and mentally prepared to enter the world of politics, especially since he’s lost a staggering 63kg.

This time last year, he weighed an unhealthy 180kg. Chris didn’t like to travel by air because he took up two seats and all his clothes used to be custom-made.

But when he was announced as the replacement for Tariana Turia as the Maori Party’s candidate for the Te Tai Hauauru electorate, he knew he had to overcome his weight problem once and for all.

“Obesity is an illness. Diabetes was kicking in. I wasn’t sleeping, my knees were packing up. I was depressed with my weight,” the Tokoroa-born father explains. “I couldn’t get my eating under control. I felt like a heroin addict. The more I tried to lose the weight, the more I failed.”

After exhausting all other options, Chris, who is based in Wellington, took drastic action by resorting to life-changing gastric bypass surgery to help him lose the kilos.

“I’ve been on every diet, I’ve tasted every weight-loss milkshake known to man, but none of that lasted,” he says. “If I didn’t do anything, I would have weighed 200kg in no time and I didn’t want that.”

The proud dad with wife Mal and his children (from top left) Paki, Te Rangi, Te Aonui and Maia.

The former teacher will be taking over from Tariana when she steps down from politics this year, and coincidentally, the Maori Party co-leader had her stomach stapled in 2010 to help her lose weight and combat diabetes.

In fact, it was during an encounter with the politician last year, where the kindred spirits gave each other a much-needed pep talk. Tariana encouraged Chris to see a doctor and urged him to have surgery to deal with his weight.

“We were at a meeting and she was shocked to see how big I had got,” remembers Chris. “She asked me about my symptoms and could see I was experiencing the same problems she had when she

was big. We both had type two diabetes. We were both struggling with mobility and lacked energy, which affected our high-powered jobs.”

Chris says he was once an active child and teenager, but the kilos piled on when he started working. He’s held numerous high-profile positions within his iwi, which include being a Treaty settlement negotiator, an education manager and a political strategist, but says focusing on work and not his wellbeing contributed to him being the size he was.

“When you’re a big Maori guy, going to marae around the country, people look at you and want to feed you, thinking they’re being nice and hospitable.”

The turning point came when he stopped being the funny, outgoing and loving husband to his wife Mal (38), and an active father to his children, Te Aonui (19), Paki (14), Maia (12) and Te Rangi (7).

“People began to notice I was changing and becoming a different person,” he admits. “I was normally a happy guy but was becoming introverted.”

When the Maori Party approached him last year to run for parliament at September’s election, he knew he needed more energy for the major career change.

When Chris was 180kg, Mal noticed her usually outgoing husband was becoming more introverted.

Using a combination of savings and some assistance from whanau members, Chris was able to raise the $40,000 he needed for the surgery.

Since having the operation in December, Chris has a new lease of life. He now weighs 117kg, no longer has type two diabetes and is feeling match fit to enter the political arena.

“This campaign has given me a new focus, that’s why I have a new confidence,” he explains. “It’s a change from when people used to tell me how big I was, to saying how they don’t recognise me any more.”

But the most positive change has been at home.

“I like the fact that I look nice for my wife. I have more energy to engage with my children and reconnect with them,” he says. “I wake up every morning now with a smile on my face and want to attack life.”

Related stories