IF LIFE is like a box of chocolates then suffice it to say that only a few years back Marino Tiuka wouldn't have had the time nor inclination to chew on its delights to properly savour the meaning.
Metaphorically speaking, the chocolates would have disappeared quicker than Tiuka could say "you never know what you'll get".
That's because the father of two, a self-confessed big rig at 120kg, found himself tipping the bathroom scales at 156kg owing to myriad factors.
The Central Hawke's Bay College te reo Maori teacher had injured his back after lifting heavy items while renovating the family home one Christmas holidays and the domino effect took hold from there.
"My orthopaedic surgeon told me I would never play rugby again," says the former Central Reserves player.
It wasn't unusual for an inactive Tiuka to scull two beers in quick succession.
If that wasn't enough, a smorgasbord of fast-food choices added traction to the slippery slope of obesity.
"We often got home from work so peeling and boiling spuds often took too long.
"It was easier to drive down to the corner to buys two scoops of chips, dips and fizzy drinks," says the 35-year-old whose wife Ngatel Tiuka is a teacher at St Joseph's School in Waipukurau.
Fortunately for the Tiukas and their children, Aaliyah and Isaiah, Ngatel's close friend, Aroha Hapuku, of Hastings, was a nagging reminder of where they shouldn't be heading.
Getting on Facebook, Hapuku's message was simple but resounding:
"Get on the waka because if you're not on the boat then you're sinking."
That waka was the pathway to the Ironmaori and, last year, Tiuku and Ngatel joined a team.
While he sat in the transition area, Tiuka decided he would do the whole thing.
Enter Ironmaori co-founder Heather Skipworth, who gave them sound advice on swimming and cycling, and the Tiuka family didn't look back.
Consequently they will be participating in the Ironmaori triathlon next Saturday at Pandora Pond.
In keeping with the Ironmaori edict, next week's triathlon is smoke, drug and alcohol-free.
While the focus is on the promotion of health and well-being among Maori and Pacific Island people, it is open to everyone.
It began in 2009 with 300 competitors, lured 600 starters in 2010, and mushroomed to 1500 last year.
According to organiser George Mackey, whose wife Missy is also a co-founder, this year's field of 2130 sold out in a gob-smacking seven minutes on-line.
"The event is bigger than Taupo's annual Ironman," Mackey claims.
Tiuka is competing in the individual event of triathlon while Ngatel is cycling in the half-iron segment.
Before that, the couple competed in the quarter Ironmaori here a fortnight ago and also in a duathlon in Wellington.
"We've got a virus and we're infected by it so much so that it has changed our fitness and lifestyle habits," he says.
Daughter Aaliyah, 10, is in the Iron Tamariki grade for primary school pupils, which offers a 1km run and 100m swim.
Son Isaiah, 12, also in primary school, inadvertently found himself in the Iron Rangatahi grade for high school competitors - but he has taken that in his stride.
"We signed him into the wrong one but it's okay as he wanted to bike," Tiuka says of the 3km run, 5km swim and 14km cycling in the Iron Rangatahi event.
Dramatically changing the diet at home from junk food to predominantly healthy meals wasn't easy.
Fish and chips can still be on the menu but in moderation, he says.
"The take-away owners are probably disappointed that they're not making a lot of money from us any more.
"No one likes to see the kids' lips drop when they get hoha [annoyed].
"We knew about our poor diet and the doctors told us but it went through one ear and out the other," says Tiuka, revealing all that "gobbledegook" makes perfect sense now.
The couple are especially proud of their son, who has enticed four friends to participate as well.
The two hours a day training for Tiuka with alternate days of swimming and spin class at the facility at the AW Parson's Gym in Waipuk is a godsend.
He and his family are indebted to gym manager Michelle Hayes for the "top-notch" service.
Tiuka starts by saying he hasn't had a drop of beer since his training regime but quickly checks himself by disclosing he's had only two beers during that time.
Like many Maori, he loved his rugby and rugby league.
"I couldn't see myself on the road wearing Spandex Lycra a year ago.
"I don't enjoy running but I still do it," says the man who has shed 28kg to date.
Tiuka says he has quite often come across people who claimed they couldn't afford to buy a bike or pay the entry fee.
"You can see it as a small invest because it's a one-off cost.
"Besides, what value would you put on your life?"