Porirua says a sad farewell to two sports heroes
Two big names in Porirua sport – Chris Kenny and Nene Va’alepu – died last week, both leaving lasting imprints on the landscape.
Boxing trainer Kenny used to drop into Kapi-Mana News regularly to chat about the issues of the day. There was always a smile on his face and a spring in his step.
We attended a few of the club nights at his boxing gym, tucked away behind Marines Hall in Whitehouse Rd.
Although Kenny said he’d sometimes open up and no-one would come, the evenings we were there were loud and busy, with boxers clamouring for room in the tiny building.
Kenny never had a major sponsor or big money behind him. He never had an official title of youth worker, but he might as well have.
He coached a host of national champions and helped turn around the lives of many young boxers. The outpouring of messages on social media last week after his death was a testament to his legacy.
Kenny went about his coaching in an uncompromising manner that ignored any PC niceties. ‘‘Work hard and follow my rules,’’ he would say, ‘‘or you’re out the door.’’
He lived by – and taught – philosophies such as integrity, respect, dedication and discipline. But, as world champion kickboxer Rex Redden told us, once the pads were down and gloves were off, he was cheerful and brilliant to talk to.
Va’alepu, meanwhile, achieved huge success in rugby and rugby league for Porirua teams and was incredibly popular.
With Northern United he won the Swindale Shield several times and the Jubilee Cup once. He was part of a golden era for the club.
In the much-vaunted Porirua Vikings rugbyleague backline in 2008 and 2009, he was outstanding.
In both codes, his twinkle toes, speed and fearless defence were memorable.
Footage surfacing on Facebook last week of the 2009 rugby league grand final, in which he decimated Wainui’s defence, showed off his mercurial talent.
Norths have had a rotten time – club members are still mourning the deaths of Jerry Collins and stalwart administrator Ivan Hardgrave.
Kenny’s life was well lived, but Va’alepu’s death at 28 is a tragic loss, with young children left without a father.
Both men will be sorely missed. Towns need their sports heroes – they’re often the glue that holds people together and inspires others.