28 Apr 2021

The boxing gym proving a major hit among the Pasifika community

From Champions of the Pacific, 6:07 am on 28 April 2021

A Lower Hutt boxing gym is proving a major hit among the local Pasifika community, with entire families coming together to work up a sweat at an affordable price.

Punchfit New Zealand Boxing Gym was founded in 2016 by three Tokelauan cousins who wanted to help local Pasifika and Māori in the Hutt Valley be more active in a supportive and welcoming environment.

And at just $5 per session, it's often standing room only at their popular evening classes.

Punchfit was set up in the lead-up to the first 'Battle for the Pacific' charity boxing event in 2015, which was established to raise awareness about mental and physical health challenges in the Pasifika community.

After completing a 12-week training programme, co-founder Ana Tuia-Pereira said most of the participants wanted to carry on their training. 

"All gyms are about health and well-being but for us it's all about providing a space and supporting our community in their journey of well-being whether it's physical or mental." 

Ana Tuia-Pereira is one of the founders and directors of Punchfit NZ Boxing Gym.

Ana Tuia-Pereira is one of the founders and directors of Punchfit NZ Boxing Gym. Photo: Dom Thomas

Theresa Lealofi was first introduced to Punchfit after signing up to the Battle for the Pacific in 2019.

"I really enjoy this for the boxing, not only for the fitness but it's a real mental kinda thing as well, it helps you build confidence in a way that other gym offerings don't.

"I don't know if you've ever been punched in the face, but if you can come back from being punched in the face you can build resilience in yourself as well."

Now she is a regular and can found at the gym's Naenae premises up to five times a week.

"It's a real good community, good trainers, a real good heart for the community, so that's what draws me in to keep coming," she said.

"It's always a killer but it's always fun as well, encouraging environment, good people, no judgement. Everyone's here just to have fun and get a sweat on." 

Theresa Lealofi has been attending classes at Punchfit NZ Boxing Gym since the early days.

Theresa Lealofi has been attending classes at Punchfit NZ Boxing Gym since the early days. Photo: Dom Thomas

Elijah Fonoti has been working up a sweat at Punchfit for two and a half years and said from day one everyone made him feel welcome.

"It's the reason we've stayed here, we just enjoy coming. It's just the vibe. It's more than just a boxing gym."

Initially, he tagged along with his brother but now his whole family comes along too.

"I've got seven kids and five of them are in the kids' classes and then me and the wife sometimes do the evening, sometimes do the double.

"The good thing about here is, nothing against all the other gyms, but not many communities have this kind of avenue that they could turn to."

Elijah Fonoti's whole family are regulars are Punchfit NZ Boxing Gym.

Elijah Fonoti's whole family are regulars are Punchfit NZ Boxing Gym. Photo: Dom Thomas

John Vaelei Gatu is one of the co-founders and directors of Punchfit. He said boxing turned his life around and the gym is his way of helping others in the community. 

"There was a time where I did walk on the wrong path and when I actually got introduced to boxing, I guess I had a lot of anger in me, you know, frustration I suppose. 

"But when I did join boxing it really changed my life in terms of discipline and also, the fact that boxing is not actually about violence or going out there and use it… it's about self-discipline and it's probably one of the main reasons why I took up boxing and changed my life overall."

Punchfit was originally run out of a gym in central Lower Hutt but moved into its new home in Naenae last year, just after the country came out of lockdown.

Cam Koloi, sons Joseph and Rigby and nieces Sofia and Vitolia, all attend Punchfit classes.

Cam Koloi, sons Joseph and Rigby and nieces Sofia and Vitolia, all attend Punchfit classes. Photo: RNZ Pacific/Vinnie Wylie

"We're fortunate that our Tokelau community have let us turn this space into a community gym," Tuia-Pereira said.

"Just being able to have more classes, reach out to more people is surreal sometimes but yeah really nice."

There are eight regular classes per week, while ‘Punchfit Kids’ is just $40 each for 10 sessions.

“We've got a kids' programme where there are kids that come from poor families,” Gatu explained.

“We can sense it, I can see it. I know these kids from the first time they walk in. So our job is to put a smile on their face in a way. We use exercise but also that discipline part of it as well.”

“I think going back to where we started from, was always part of our values is caring for the unfortunate families... it's a whole lot of mix, all different types of races. I like to think that this club stands out from other clubs the fact that, it's like a family, it's like one big family.”

Punchfit NZ Boxing Gym runs fitness classes four nights per week.

Punchfit NZ Boxing Gym runs fitness classes four nights per week. Photo: Dom Thomas