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Masterton Gunshot victim hits back

Jamie Nepia lost her leg after being shot in a ‘meth-fueled rampage’ in Masterton in 2018. Four years later she’s preparing to head to Ireland for the World Kickboxing Association Championships.

Nepia’s path to competing for New Zealand wasn’t easy, with the first challenge for her coach Emilio Johnson being to teach her how to walk.

Johnson said he would often arrive at the gym early to practice techniques he would pass on to Nepia, who was the first amputee he had trained.

Ever since walking through the MMA Disputed club door, Nepia has spent countless hours in the gym, now training for two hours a day.

Nepia started MMA 18 months after losing her leg. The shooting took place on December 2, 2018, across the road from her mum’s house in Masterton.

Representing New Zealand wasn’t something Nepia ever thought she would do when she first started training.

Johnson said all athletes heading to the competition would be fighting, and Nepia would fight, even if she had to be up against an able-bodied person.

He said November’s international event was the first time a para-athlete division had been introduced to the world championships.

Nepia said her biggest advice to others in positions like hers was to never give up.

“Even though it gets hard, never give up.”

“Stop making up excuses; I know a few people who are still in wheelchairs and have their families asking me to give them advice.

“Sometimes I can say all the stuff in the world to them, but it’s really up to them if they want to take that advice on board, it’s up to them if they want to change.”

Nepia said she vividly remembered the day she was shot while trying to protect her mother.

In a July 2020 high court sentencing of her shooter, she said she had become “totally reliant” on others to look after her and thought she would be a burden to her family for the remainder of her life.

She spoke of the activities she used to enjoy with her five children, such as dancing, swimming, and playing basketball, and how she could no longer do that.

She also spoke of the 12-hour surgery to save her life followed by a 15-hour surgery a few weeks later to save her leg, involving a skin graft from her back and connecting a nerve from her right leg.

The surgery failed, causing her leg to be amputated above the knee.

“When I see [my leg and scars] I feel ugly,” she told the high court through tears.

Nepia said she had eventually surprised rehabilitators, doing far more than they expected she would within such as short period of time since her amputation.

She said they weren’t sure how to teach her to run again because most of their experience was with children.

Nepia was determined to eventually learn to run, but for now, she has mastered fast walking.

Johnson said other athletes at the gym looked to Nepia for inspiration.

Jamie Nepia at her gym with her team, training. PHOTOS/FILE

Nepia said she found inspiration from her koroua [grandfather] Epineha Ratapu, the second-to-last veteran of the famed Māori Battalion, who saw action in some of the most heated battles of World War II. He died in 2020, aged 98.

“He went over to another country and fought, and now I’m going over to another country but doing different fighting.”

She said she remembered Ratapu for a big smile, big ears, and how he was always laughing.

“I remember him coming into the hospital, and he comes over to the bed – he’s in his wheelchair too – and he called me Hoppy because I used to hop everywhere.”

Nepia said she was often thanked for showing up and bringing positivity to the gym.

“They come in and look at me and think ‘if she can do it, I can do it too’”.

Johnson and Nepia said they would like to see kickboxing become an Olympic sport, with para-athletes across the world becoming introduced to the sport after amputations.

Johnson said the sport was found when people were in search of something to strive for.

Jamie Nepia at her gym with her team, training.

Nepia has been trying to tackle internet fitness trends, like doing a handstand she saw on the social media app Tik Tok.

“If they can do it, why can’t I?”

Nepia said she was also “pretty sure” she was the only amputee to be a ring girl in the world.

Nepia isn’t the only person from Wairarapa on the New Zealand team; she said she was incredibly proud to be fighting alongside Corban Mita, Chris Peachey, Zac Rowe, and Heaton Smith from her gym – as well as Boston Moylan from Fortitiude.

  • The World Kickboxing Association Champs will be held in Waterford, Ireland from November 1 to November 4.

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Grace Prior
Grace Prior
Grace Prior is a senior reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with a keen interest in environmental issues. Grace is the paper’s health reporter and regularly covers the rural sector, weather, Greater Wellington Regional Council, and coastal stories.

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