Despite having a mild stroke and being asthmatic, Rob Ah Chong is determined to get into the boxing ring to raise awareness and money for the Mental Health Foundation.
The 44-year-old will take part in a charity boxing match on 10 December and is undergoing a rigorous training regime to get fit.
“The whole purpose of the fight is to raise awareness around mental health, to raise money and to get people talking about mental health,” he says.
The location of the Auckland bout and his opponent will be confirmed closer to the date and is being organised with the help of CTP Boxing.
“I want people to talk about mental health and not be afraid. I want people to have conversations and open up about mental health.”
Rob’s life touched by suicide
Rob lost his cousin and uncle to suicide, and he recently reconnected with an old friend who is experiencing mental health issues.
“My friend is in a difficult space because of trauma and alcohol and drug abuse and it really made me want to do something to help.”
A couple of years ago, Rob helped stop a young girl from taking her own life after coming across her by chance while out on a run.
“I went over to her and talked to her and she told me about some bad things going on in her life and I called the police.”
These experiences, coupled with suffering from a stroke in January, forced the former representative rugby player to take stock of his life.
“I was lying in the hospital, not sure of what was wrong and it triggered something in me. I thought, ‘If I’m going to live I might as well help people and make the most of my life, challenge myself and help others’.”
He says anybody is vulnerable to mental health challenges. “My faith in God has helped me get out of challenging times and has given me inner strength.”
Challenges in Pacific Island culture
Rob is a New Zealand-born Samoan and had a Chinese grandfather. He says in Pacific Island culture it’s difficult for people to talk about mental health problems.
“We are tough and proud people so when something happens we don’t want to admit it or if we or family have mental health issues, we don’t talk about it, but we should be talking about it.”
Rob is a project manager at signwriting company Cranium Signs. He is also a part-time artist and is hoping to put together an exhibition for his friend.
“The challenge I’ve set myself in the ring is nothing compared to the challenge people with mental health issues face. I’m just an ordinary guy trying to raise awareness.”