Vaimoana Tapaleao is the New Zealand Herald's Pacific Affairs and People reporter.

Pride of NZ Awards: My hero's my mum - Willie

Willie Apiata says his own hero is definitely his mum.

Willie Apiata, VC, believes those who deserve the most praise in the community are people who work hard to help youth. Photo / Alan Gibson
Willie Apiata, VC, believes those who deserve the most praise in the community are people who work hard to help youth. Photo / Alan Gibson

Former corporal Willie Apiata, holder of the Victoria Cross, admits he still finds it hard to think of himself as a hero and is quick to bump off the title to someone else he thinks is worthy of it - his mother.

"I'm still getting used to being called a hero," Mr Apiata said.

Watch: Pride of New Zealand Awards 2014


"For me, my hero is definitely my mum. As a single parent raising four kids, she was always there for us and never gave in when it got tough."

Mr Apiata is today announced as a judge for the Pride of New Zealand Awards.

He is one of several high-profile Kiwis on the judging panel, which also includes former television news presenter Judy Bailey, radio host Polly Gillespie and netball star Maria Tutaia.

Mr Apiata received the Victoria Cross in 2007 for valour while stationed as a lance corporal with the Special Air Service in Afghanistan.

An enemy attack left one of the Kiwi soldiers critically injured and Mr Apiata made the decision to carry his comrade across the battlefield to safety - while under fire.

Asked to describe what bravery was to him, he said that was still hard to define, despite the many dangerous situations he had been in over the years.

"Bravery comes in many shapes and forms. It enables us to do extraordinary things when called upon, to help people in danger or distress."

He acknowledged there were many unsung heroes in communities around the country. But for him, people who deserved a whole lot of praise were those who worked hard for youth.

"People who give up their time to work in youth organisations - it's often a thankless job, but they do so much to empower our young ones. And not just the disadvantaged ones, but all kids from around the country.

"They are our future leaders, so it's important to give them as many tools as we can."

Mr Apiata has worked with young people and given motivational speeches at schools around the country. Up until recently he worked with at-risk youth for the High Wire Charitable Trust, based in Papakura, running a satellite camp on the Awhitu Peninsula.

He paid tribute to the trust's chief executive, Dave Hopkins, for his work and for being one of his key role models in life.

"[Dave] gives a lot of his time to the High Wire Charitable Trust, helping and teaching our youth," Mr Apiata said.

"A lot of people put in a lot of effort here and it's great to be able to empower our kids and strengthen them for when they return back to their communities as better people."

Nominations for the Pride of NZ Awards close on Sunday.

Pride of NZ Awards

The awards recognise ordinary Kiwis doing big things in their communities.
Anyone can make a nomination for any of the six categories, which honour bravery and heroism, community spirit, environmental leaders, emergency heroes and fundraisers. Visit Nominations close on Sunday.
Nominations close on June 15.

- NZ Herald

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