I first met Pelea Fruean (or Lea as her friends and family call her) when I spoke to her Year 12 class at One Tree Hill College. I was talking about resilience; about not just overcoming life’s hurdles but becoming stronger through those big challenges.
I asked the class, “Has anyone here been in a really tough situation and come out of it feeling stronger?” The class was understandably a little shy but one hand did go up - Lea’s.
I was really struck by Lea’s confidence and character. Strong and beautiful, inside and out!
Lea shared how she has been through some tough times in her life, times when everything seemed to be pretty difficult and I asked her, “How did you get through?”
Her answer was so inspiring…
She said, “I tell myself that tough times and actually good times too, don’t last. So, if I’m really having a tough day or week I remind myself ‘you will get through this, this will pass.’ And that’s how I approach life really, everything is temporary, I will get through it. That’s how I keep going and eventually, those tough times do pass and I am still here, I am ok”, she said, smiling.
So often, our external circumstances are out of our control - some things we just can’t foresee or prevent from happening. But the one thing we can truly choose is how to respond.
We can CHOOSE our attitude and outlook regardless of our circumstances, and this is why I found Lea so impressive.
After the class, I had a little chat with Lea and learned that she is a champion boxer ranked second in the world junior 60kg division! She has also been nominated to go to the Youth Commonwealth Games in the Bahamas!
Her combination of determination and humility was so noticeable, so I asked Lea if I could come watch one of her training sessions and catch up over a few questions. Watching Lea in the ring was so eye opening! Even having been a professional athlete myself, I was stunned by her speed, power and work ethic.
In our interview, she shares how her cousin, Joseph Parker, inspires her, the discipline that is required in her training and diet and her dream of reaching the Olympics.
Sach: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Lea: My name is Lea, I’m 16 and I’m Samoan. My passion is boxing. I love the sport and it’s basically become my life! The training is pretty intense and I train 5-6 times a week before or after school.
I have to train like an athlete, eat like an athlete and have the mindset of an athlete.
How did you get involved in boxing?
My first cousin is Joseph Parker (World Champion Boxer), so I’ve kind of always looked up to him and then one day my dad said to me, "Do you want to train with him?" and I was like, “Uh yeah!”. I started training with Jo when I was 12 but then he got too busy with his professional career so I decided to join a proper gym. Now I train with my coach, Regan Foley and his wife Veronica at Boxfit in Panmure.
Has Jo given you any good words of advice?
Oh yeah! It’s usually just "keep going", he’s always been telling me that I can make it if I really, really try. I remember my brothers always saying he’s going be a champion and look at him now! So, I kind of use that as motivation that I can make it if I really, really try.
Your training looks so intense! What's a typical training day like for you?
Each day varies but as an example, I train two-three hours a day and it would include something like sprinting around the Panmure Basin as fast as I can whilst being timed. Then I have to sprint around it again, a second time and beat the first time. I also do things like short distance sprinting, three-minute rounds on the punching bag because that’s how long a round is in boxing for me as well as pad work, partner work and drills.
What motivates you to get up and out of bed at 6am for training?
It’s just the drive. I just want to make it so much. Knowing that my family and I have invested so much helps me stay motivated but really it's just keeping the dream in my head.
There are times when I come to the gym and I’m like, "I just don’t feel like being here right now", but you just have to stay hungry.
Tell us about your best accomplishment to date?
I went to the fifth nations cup in Serbia and got second in the world 60kg junior division. To be honest, I was devastated I didn’t get the gold. That was the aim and I was scared of the disappointment when I got home but when I got back it was just all love. My family were proud of me and I was proud of myself.
Losing is part of being an athlete, so how do you handle it when you don't win?
I’m a sore loser! I hate losing. I remember my first loss, I was undefeated until the final in Serbia and when I lost, I broke down and I didn’t have my family there. There was a lot of crying and I didn’t get over it straight away. But I had friends telling me, “It’s only a loss, you’ve got to learn from it and keep going” I had my family encouraging me too and I had people telling me, "It was a world tournament and you got a silver! You should be proud of yourself". But it is tough when you train so hard and you feel like you did put everything into it. You’ve just got to let it motivate you. I'm fortunate to have so much support around me.
I guess you can't just eat lollies or junk food when you're training to reach your goals. What kind of sacrifices do you have to make?
I love burger king! I’ve had to sacrifice that!
I had to get used to the whole eating right thing. There was a time when I used to starve myself to lose weight and I had to learn. There was this long period when I thought that starving myself to make weight was the way to go so I could fight, but no.
I had to learn to eat the right times, five meals a day and very balanced, So, yeah, the diet is hard. I’m still trying to cope with it and there are days I’ll go without eating and other days where the temptation gets to me and I'll eat junk food but I guess you just got to stay motivated and know that it will be worth it.
Is there a lot of pressure to make your 60kg weight division?
A lot of pressure. Because if you don’t make weight, you don’t fight and all the training goes to waste so it’s a pretty big deal in boxing. You just have to train as hard as you can and eat right. There have been times when I’ve been at 63kg and needed to be down at 60kg and it’s really stressful. Like at school, I’d get stressed out. People would be like "do you want to eat this?" And I’d be like "no! I gotta make weight". It’s just kind of stressful thinking what you can and can’t eat but then my trainer and his wife are so supportive. They taught me to eat right. They taught me to balance out my meals and showed me I don’t need to starve to make weight.
Having that support made such a difference. It helped me because in an Islander background we don’t usually do the diet thing! But having that support and guidance really helped.
It sounds like you've spent a lot of time figuring things out and learning balance! Tell us, what’s your dream with boxing?
My dream with boxing is the Olympics. I want to be up on that pedestal, representing New Zealand, Samoa, my family, my gym. That’s my dream!
Lea has been nominated to represent New Zealand at the Youth Commonwealth Games in the Bahamas and she fundraising to get there! She has been running Boxfit Classes as well as other events in the community. She has almost reached her target of $5,000 and if you would like to donate to help get Lea to the Bahama's just click here:
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