This weekend, while teams battle it out on Toi Ohomai Baywide Secondary Schools Finals Day at Rotorua International Stadium, one particular referee will complete a life changing journey that began three years ago.

Husband and father of three Rees Uerata, 38, will take charge of his second finals appointment for 2018 when Katikati College take on Tauhara College in the Division 2 First XV final. Rees was also appointed to the Baywide Senior Reserve final between Ruatoki and Judea last month.

In only his third year as a referee, Uerata was discovered two years ago running the touchline for his younger sister and Premier Women's referee Taneika Uerata at Paengaroa. After a short conversation, he swapped his flag for a whistle and stepped into the middle. His rapid progression was rewarded when he was named Best First Year Referee later that year.

But that is not where his story ends.

In January, the Bay of Plenty Rugby Union contracted Rotorua personal trainer Anthony Alo, of Alo Strength and Conditioning, to run a 12-week fitness programme for the Rotorua-based Bay of Plenty Rugby referees.

Referee manager Pat Rae said: "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 rugby union moved into the high performance centre at Mount Maunganui."

Uerata, along with other Rotorua referees, started fitness training on a hot summer's evening at Whakarewarewa Rugby Club. Tipping the scales at 130kg, he knew he had to make some life changes. With a poor cholesterol level, pre-diabetic and struggling to keep up with players when refereeing, Rees took the opportunity with two hands and started his weight loss journey.

With support from Alo, Uerata started adding extra running sessions around the Redwoods. What started off as 2-3km jogs with numerous stops, slowly built up to 6-7km runs with no stops.

Alo said: "What surprised me about Rees was his commitment to the sessions. He had a 100 per cent attendance rate at my sessions and put in 100 per cent effort at every one."

Uerata 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 lots of vegetables. Portion sizes also dropped considerably and in 22 weeks, he had lost a dramatic 37kg.

He is now hovering around the 93-94kg mark.

The benefits on the rugby field were instant. He was able to get around the field a lot faster and keep up with the players. His decision-making 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 continued moving up through the grades.

His wife Teresa said, off the field, he had grown as a husband and a father.

"Rees' weight loss has been huge for the kids and myself. He has a lot more energy around the house and his improved health means the world to us all."

Rae said: "While rugby may have been the vehicle and refereeing the arm, 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.

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"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."

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