John ‘Boulder Shoulders’ unbeaten in the ring but still fighting off demons

Wheelchair boxer John Fiu has a record of 18-0.
Photo: Marika Khabazi

He’s an undefeated heavyweight boxer, but John ‘Boulder Shoulders’ Fiu can feel completely powerless when on the streets.

Fiu has battled severe physical and mental health issues throughout his life which may already be over if not for boxing.

A wheelchair boxer Fiu is set to finally return to the ring after a long and tumultuous journey.

Fiu will fight in a boxing event for people living with a range of disabilities and he is hoping it can be a catalyst to grow adaptive sport throughout Aotearoa.

Born with cerebral palsy and down syndrome, he developed mental health issues at an early age.

“I have spasms on the right side which means my whole right I can shake then they can change over to the next leg. Which I have no control over.”

As a result, Fiu was depressed and eating himself into an early grave.

“I’d be probably be at home eating and eating and eating and eating until I go to heaven. In 2012, I was in a bad space with mental health and ended up doing the things that I wasn’t supposed to do.”

After losing his mother in 2016, Fiu would face the biggest fight of his life, a fight for survival.

“I didn’t know how to deal with it, I went to those dark places every single day.”

It was a fight he very nearly lost.

“One that I recall was an induced coma. I took six to eight boxes of Paracetamol, Tramadol, whatever I could get my hands on at the time. You don’t want to live anymore.I thought that was the end of me.”

Fiu had always been a big fan of David Tua and discovered adaptive boxing through the former heavyweight champion.

Wheelchair boxer John Fiu

Fiu has battled severe physical and mental health issues throughout his life.
Photo: Marika Khabazi

It was through the sport he was able to gain a sense of purpose and belonging.

However, the South Auckland knockout artist has been riddled with self doubt throughout his career.

“I was doubting myself and self harming and different things like that taking pills, spiralling down, I used to attack myself, stab myself and cut myself on the arms and say that I’m worth nothing, it’s a roller coaster.

Fortunately, Fiu managed to pull himself out of the darkness once again through the sport he loved.

“If you don’t aim for a dream, then you’ll probably go back into the dark place where I ended up for many years.”

He found his saviour in the form of AJ Pouoa and Ryze Fitness.

John Fiu training with coach AJ Pouoa at Jetts Gym.

John Fiu credits his trainer and mentor AJ Pouoa with saving his life.
Photo: Marika Khabazi

“AJ is the one that saved my life. If it it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t be sitting here with my five wheels, doing what I love. She has this angel touch man.”

Pouoa has been the driving force to getting Fiu his fights.

“He said I want to be the first (wheelchair) boxer in New Zealand to represent the country and it’s taken this long to get it somewhere.”

Pouoa is also living in a wheelchair after falling from a third storey balcony in 2016 dislocating her spine, cracking her head, breaking her ribs and puncturing a lung.

An athlete who trained seven days a week prior to her accident, personal training was a natural fit and she would soon begin working with Fiu.

“Listing to his experiences, there is not much difference between us, we face the same discrimination and a lot of no’s.”

The pair have developed an incredibly strong bond.

John Fiu with his trainer and mentor AJ Pouoa

AJ and John in his safe place, Jetts Gym.
Photo: Marika Khabazi

Fiu is undefeated as a boxer, having racked up an 18-0 record, but it has been a constant battle to find opponents.

“Even though we’ve had roadblocks, I’ve never stopped. I’ve kept on going. It wakes me up in the morning, it’s planted in my head every day. I can’t stop. I can’t stop thinking about it.”

Fiu said he has had many people tell him they can’t help with his journey.

“I’ve had a few ups and downs, people saying that ‘yeah, you’re gonna fight’ and then they drop out.”

A popular figure in his South Auckland community, he has become better known for his nickname ‘Boulder Shoulders’ than John.

“The first time I joined this gym I did some arm exercises and she (AJ) just came up with this nickname and ever since everyone in the wider community is calling me Boulder Shoulders.”

Fiu will fight in an upcoming event for people living with disabilities.

“This is across all disabilities, visually impaired amputees, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, boxing doesn’t disriminate, it’s just the people that do,” Pouoa said.

Fiu said he is aiming for worlds in 2024.

“I just can’t be grateful enough that I have the opportunity to show my skills because there is no sport like (wheelchair) boxing in New Zealand at all. All over the world does. But New Zealand doesn’t. So it’s time for able bodied people to come and support us as a disabled community.”

Fiu is also fundraising for his own adaptive wheelchair unfortunately, no help has been forthcoming.

John Fiu's wheelchair with 5 wheels

John Fiu requires an adaptive wheelchair to participate in international events.
Photo: Marika Khabazi

“I’ve tried different avenues and different avenues say they couldn’t help me. I’ve asked one of the Ministry of Health to give me a little bit of a hand but they said no.”

Despite all the setbacks, Fiu will keep fighting.

“Even though it’s hard for us to to do the things they do but for us, we can always adapt. I’m just going to keep fighting and keep wheeling every day.”


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