Mother of five Jamie Nepia lost her leg after being shot during a domestic dispute in 2018. To reclaim her sense of power she started training for MMA, and is now preparing to compete at the World Kickboxing Association Champs in Ireland later this year.
"It's a proud moment representing our country because this is an opportunity of a lifetime," she told Te Ao with Moana reporter Jessica Tyson.
Nepia (Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Tama) trains at MMA Disputed, a gym in her hometown Masterton, under the guidance of coach Emilio Johnson.
"I've just watched her grow just massively. Her commitment here in the gym is awesome," Johnson says.
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.
The shooter and two associates drove to the house, looking for Jamie's partner at the time. An argument broke out and Jamie crossed the road to protect her mother, but became the target.
"You just go red and you run. You run over there and you try your hardest to protect her, and that's what I tried to do. Got him onto the road, turned around and then he shot me," she says.
The gunman shot Nepia with a sawn-off shotgun, the pellets ripping into her left thigh.
"I remember feeling a burning sensation and I think my body kicked into shock," Nepia says.
"Looking around, seeing the sunset and a lot of people around me screaming, when I thought it was me screaming… Flicking through every single one of my children, every single one of their faces like, this is it. I'm not coming back from this. That was scary."
Jamie lay bleeding in the street, the shooter's getaway car almost reversing into her whilst they made their escape. She was rushed to hospital, where she stayed for months as surgeons fought to save her leg.
"They took nerves from my right leg and put it into my left leg and took a big skin graft, took a big chunk from my back of my muscle. Seven days later the nerve gave away. The surgeons asked me, 'Do you want to do this again? Do you want to pull out another nerve?'"
With the support of whānau, Jamie chose to amputate above the knee. Recovery was long and difficult.
"I used to lock myself in the room, having bad days, closed curtains, didn't want nothing to do with the world. Looking at myself, no leg. That was really heart-breaking for me."
But walking through the doors of MMA Disputed has been a major help in her journey.
"I might have something happening on a day and I get to just leave it at the door for two hours and I get to go into the gym and I work. It makes me feel absolutely amazing."
Nepia also finds her inspiration from her koroua (grandfather) Epineha Ratapu, the second-to-last veteran of the famed Māori Battalion, which saw action in some of the most heated battles of the 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," Nepia says.
She says she remembers her koro for his big smile, his big ears, and how he was always laughing.
"He was always good at pulling jokes," she says.
"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. Anyway, he came in and he was like, 'You're going to be a basketball player'."
But she chose MMA instead.
Coach Johnson says, "She turned up on with crutches the first day and I told her, 'You need to get rid of those because, if you're gonna come into the gym, I don't want you to walk in with these crutches'."
So she did, with the help of a new prosthetic leg.
"I love my prosthetic, absolutely love it. This is the reason why I walk today. It gives me what I need," Nepia says.
Johnson says they've figured out ways to make training easier for her with the prosthetic by teaching her to fight in both stances.
"She still has to skip, still has to do the sprawls that we do here, training the same training the other guys have to do," says Johnson.
"Even when she's not well or her leg hurts, she'll still turn up to the gym and show her face. A lot of our guys have been sick and haven't turned up. Jamie's just that one person that you can guarantee that she'll be here at the gym."
Nepia trains for two hours a day and keeps to a strict diet in preparation for the World Kickboxing and Karate Association World Championships, where she will compete as an amputee boxer.
To help get her there, she has created a Givealittle page, where people can donate to help her cover the costs of airfares, transport, accommodation, the official New Zealand team uniforms and more.
"My journey has been incredibly challenging. However, I have learnt to see the beauty in everything. As I continue to push boundaries and exceed expectations, I would appreciate any and all support towards my givealittle page," she wrote on the page.
Following the incident in 2018, the gunman, Rex Daley, was sentenced to eight and a half years in jail for the shooting. His partner-in-crime, Tiana Walker-Dahlberg, received a sentence of two years and four months in jail.
Nepia says, "There is a lot of forgiveness that's involved. You can forgive people, but I won't forget what's happened," she says.
"I say to people, just take one step at a time, definitely one step at a time. Life is so short. It can be ripped away from you any moment."