A decision three years ago to pick up the whistle has led to a life-changing journey for Bay of Plenty rugby referee Rees Uerata.
The 38-year-old husband and father of three took charge of his second finals appointment for 2018 on Saturday when he controlled the Division 2 decider between Katikati and Tauhara Colleges in the Toi Ohomai Baywide Secondary Schools finals at Rotorua International Stadium.
He’d earlier been appointed to the Baywide Senior Reserve final between Ruatoki and Judea on July 28.
Thanks to the fitness training and health advice he’s received as part of his refereeing development, he’s now running around over 30 kilos lighter, and having no trouble keeping up with play.
Rees was discovered running touch for his younger sister and current premier women’s referee Taneika Uerata at Paengaroa two years ago, after just one year in the role. After a short conversation Rees swapped his flag for a whistle and stepped into the middle.
His rapid progression was rewarded with the Best First Year Referee award later that year.
Then in January the Bay of Plenty union contracted Rotorua personal trainer Anthony Alo of Alo Strength and Conditioning to run a 12-week fitness programme for Rotorua based referees.
“We wanted to provide an opportunity for our Central Bay-based referees to kick start their season by providing some support around them, similar to what the Western Bay referees have had since the union moved into the high performance centre at Mt Maunganui,” says Referee Manager Pat Rae.
Rees, along with a handful of other Rotorua referees, started their fitness training in January. Tipping the scales at 130 kgs, Rees knew that he had to make some life changes.
A poor cholesterol level, pre-diabetic and struggling to keep up with players when refereeing prompted Rees to grab the opportunity with two hands and begin his weight loss journey. With support from Anthony, Rees added extra running sessions around the Redwoods. What started off as two or three jogs of around three kilometres with numerous stops slowly built up to six or seven eight-kilometre runs per week, with no stops.
Anthony says he was blown away by Rees’ dedication.
“What surprised me about Rees was his commitment to the sessions. He had a 100 percent attendance rate and put in 100 percent effort in at every session he came to.”
Rees also changed the way he was eating. Gone were the sugary breakfast cereals, juices and junk food. In came whole foods, increased protein, with plenty of fruit and vegetables. Portion sizes also dropped considerably.
In 22 weeks, Rees had lost an extraordinary 37 kgs.
He’s now weighing in around the 93-94 kg mark.
The benefits to Rees on the rugby field were instant. He’s now able to get around much faster and keep up with the players. His referee managers believe his decision-making has dramatically improved as a result, becoming more accurate, especially around the breakdown, with clearer pictures and better communication enabling him to talk while not gasping for air.
As a result, he has continued moving up through the grades.
Off the field Rees has had tremendous growth as a husband and a father. Wife Teresa says their family have all enjoyed the benefits.
“Rees’ weight loss has been huge for the kids and myself,” she says. “He has a lot more energy around the house and his improved health means the world to us all.”
“While rugby may have been the vehicle and refereeing the arm,” says Pat, “at the end of the day, Bay of Plenty Rugby’s commitment to improving the lives of our community is really what we are about.
“Obesity is a global epidemic which affects Maori and Pacific Islanders disproportionately and we are proud to support Rees and his whanau on his journey to better health.
“It’s also a great fit with our newly announced partnership with Good Buzz and our ongoing focus with healthy eating.”