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Life changing decisions the making of Tuimaseve
Ben Tuimaseve and coach John Eden at the second Paralympic team announcement (Photo: Getty Images)
Ben Tuimaseve (aka Benza) should be very proud.
Five years ago, the music-loving Pacific Islander weighed more than 170kg, held a sedentary job and had never pursued a sport in his life.
But such was his desire to transform himself that he made some major life changes and earlier this month was rewarded by winning selection to the New Zealand Paralympic team in the men’s shot put F37 at the Tokyo Paralympic Games.
“I’m proud of my efforts,” admits Benza, who now tips the scales at a healthy 116kg. “It is a good feeling knowing the work you put in. It was a massive relief (to be selected) because the wait got pretty intense.”
Born the eldest of seven children, Benza had little experience of sport at school. Growing up with cerebral palsy, the South Aucklander had balance issues on his left side and after leaving school later took up a job in freight forwarding.
Working in an office-bound role coupled with other lifestyle choices led his weight to balloon, but in late-2016 – shortly after the Rio Paralympic Games – he opted to tackle the problem head on.
“I needed to change something and thought of the most non-Benza thing possible, sports,” he explains. He rang Hamish Meacheam – the then CEO at Parafed Auckland and now Athletics NZ Community Manager – and he was advised if he wanted to try a sport, he should give the shot put a go.
“Given that it is strength-based, it was probably the best event I could have a crack at,” he recalls.
Benza not only decided to give a sport a go, in a further effort to overhaul his life he quit his office job for a labouring role.
“I went into a more active job – lifting heavy things and being on my feet all day,” he adds. “There was less money, but it had to not be about that (money), and if I hadn’t made those changes I wouldn’t be here today.”
Benza flirted with shot put for the first couple of years but started to take it more seriously from 2018.
The following year he made his international debut at the Oceania Athletics Championships in Townsville, Australia and in November that year competed for New Zealand at the World Para Athletics Championships in Dubai.
Unfortunately for Benza he “bombed out”, placing 11th in the shot put F37 in Dubai – registering a best throw of 12.08m when he expected so much more.
“It was a pretty stink feeling to put on the Fern and not do a good job,” he adds. “I didn’t do as well as I could have but I also never experienced anything like it,” he explains. “But, it gave me a choice to either give it up or try again.”
Thankfully, Benza opted to made amends.
After undergoing ankle surgery in late-2019, qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games seemed a remote prospect. However, following the decision to postpone Games by 12 months this presented an unexpected opportunity, which the 32-year-old has grabbed with both hands.
“With the Games being rolled a year, that gave us a little window to have a shot (at qualifying) and without it I probably wouldn’t have qualified.”
Combining labouring 25-hours a week with training six times a week, Benza has made tremendous progress under the coaching guidance of John Eden.
Training at Papakura Athletic Club for throws sessions and at AUT Millennium on Auckland’s North Shore for gym sessions, Benza has enjoyed the best competitive campaign of his career this year – setting a PB of 13.65m in Auckland in March.
The performance ranks Benza eighth in the world – less than a metre behind the third ranked athlete – and he attributes the improvement down to enhancing his mental approach to the sport over the past 18 months or so.
Selected in the second group of New Zealand para athletes earlier this month, he admits he faced a nervous wait before earning the call up for the Tokyo Paralympic Games.
But now he is assured of his spot, what does he hope to achieve on the big stage at the Tokyo Paralympic Games?
“I want to go and represent better than I did last time, but top six and a PB would be the goods.”