AUT stu­dent re­turns to Wheel Blacks

Central Leader - - NEWS -

Wheel Black Tainafi Le­fono plans to be the first tetraplegic to com­plete a bach­e­lor of phys­io­ther­apy in New Zealand.

Le­fono, 28, is in his fourth year of study at Auck­land Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy and ad­mits it has been tough but re­ward­ing.

He broke his neck play­ing rugby in 2007.

The Mt Eden res­i­dent has al­ways had a love for sport and fit­ness but it was dur­ing his spinal re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion that he grew to re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate phys­io­ther­apy.

‘‘I knew be­fore get­ting into the course that the prac­ti­cal side was go­ing to present some chal­lenges,’’ he says.

For some prac­ti­cal as­sess­ments Le­fono uses a re­hab as­sis­tant who he gives ver­bal in­struc­tions to, mean­ing he needs ex­ten­sive knowl­edge of cor­rect pro­ce­dures.

His neck in­jury hap­pened dur­ing a pre-sea­son game for the Otago pre­mier team. At the time he was in his sec­ond year of study­ing health sci­ence at Otago Univer­sity.

‘‘A lot of ques­tions started run­ning through my head, what was I go­ing to do now?’’ Le­fono says.

‘‘What kind of life will I have? How will my fam­ily cope?’’

‘‘This be­gan a jour­ney of hard­ships and tri­umphs as I carved out a new life for my­self.’’

Aside from his study Le­fono keeps up his love for sport as a mem­ber of the Wheel Blacks wheel­chair rugby team.

He has been named as part of the 10-strong squad to con­test the Canada Cup in June.

It will mark his re­turn to the na­tional side af­ter a twoyear hia­tus to con­cen­trate on his stud­ies.

Le­fono’s Wheel Black coach Peter Martin says the Samoan’s in­clu­sion is a wel­come ad­di­tion to the team.

‘‘He’s pick­ing con­cepts up quick, what’s let­ting him down is lack of fit­ness,’’ Martin says. ‘‘I still think there’s time, he’s get­ting fit­ter and you can see that.’’

Le­fono has ad­mit­ted it has been tough re-en­ter­ing the team and he has had to work hard to catch up to his team­mates.

He trains six days a week while con­tin­u­ing his study and work­ing at Mid­dle­more Hospi­tal.

Le­fono is look­ing for­ward to no longer be­ing a ‘‘poor univer­sity stu­dent’’ and get­ting out into the work­force.

‘‘I have a pas­sion for pub­lic health, es­pe­cially help­ing to pre­vent life­style dis­eases af­fect­ing Pasi­fika,’’ he says.

‘‘Other ar­eas I am in­ter­ested in are neuro re­hab, es­pe­cially stroke and spinal cord re­hab and I also have keen in­ter­est in fit­ness and nu­tri­tion.’’

Photo: CHERIE HAR­RIS

Wheel Black: Tainafi Le­fono will make his re­turn to the Wheel Blacks at the Canada Cup in June.

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