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Billy Meehan

Hokowhitu Campus kaiako Billy Meehan has trained 37 national boxing champs and won multiple titles as a fighter himself by putting in untold hours to the sport.

Now his dedication has been recognised by New Zealand's boxing fraternity, who presented him with the distinguished Brian O'Brien Trophy in Rotorua this month.

The award acknowledges the 56-year-old's commitment to boxing spanning almost 50 years. His successes include a Commonwealth Games medal and he's the holder of the record for most titles won in a single weight class.

His remarkable journey in the ring began nearly 50 years ago.

"In 1969, a couple of months before my eighth birthday, I walked into Kiwi Boxing Club in Palmerston North. In that same year I had my first boxing bout," he says.

More than 20 years and 300 fights later, he moved into coaching before opening his own club, Meehan's Boxing club in 1999.

In 2001, along with being elected president of the Manawatu Boxing Association, Billy was approached by Papaioea TWoA manager Paul Shailer to teach sports and fitness.

"I enjoyed working with youth that the mainstream system had failed and the kaupapa of the wānanga supported and created opportunity to work with them, but at the time my answer was 'I'm not a school teacher'. Paul replied, 'we're no school'. My second attempt at no was, 'I don't have teaching qualifications'. He replied 'you have life skills that our tauira need, you can get the teaching qualifications along the way'."

So Billy gained his Diploma in Adult Education with the wānanga and has been going strong as a Certificate in Sport, Fitness & Health Youth Guarantee kaiako for 16 years.

He also remains president of the Manawatu Boxing Association. 

Of Irish descent, Billy says one of the benefits of teaching at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa is that he can bring boxing training into his programme.

"Te Wānanga o Aotearoa promotes a holistic approach to teaching and encourages kaiako to be creative in the classroom," he says.

"To meet the needs of our tauira we're challenged to bring them up to speed with what they've missed out on over many years.  Just last year I had a boy in the gym who wasn't doing too well and his school wanted to kick him out. Long story short, after living with us, he's now sitting his NCEA Level 2."

It's these kinds of hours that he freely volunteers, using boxing to change lives of at-risk youth in his community, that put him up for nomination in the first place.

"I've had a number of tauira successfully go into work or further study. Some have gone on to obtain degrees, one has completed his post graduate diploma, another went on to manage a fitness gym, while another is climbing the ladder of success in the army - although she was told on a number of occasions that she wouldn’t make it."

Like his initial response to teaching at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, when he was nominated for the Brian O'Brien award he tried to talk his way out of it.

"I was a bit taken back with the nomination and humbled by the attention it has drawn." 

In the presentation speech given to honour Billy, Manawatu Boxing Association said the award summed up everything Billy was about.

"He's devoted his whole life to this sport and done nothing but serve. And as this award is for services to the sport, I think you’ll agree that Billy is a fitting candidate and perfect example."

We couldn't agree more.

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