They were the people who made New Zealand a better place in 2012. Some of them responded heroically at a moment when they were most needed, others worked tirelessly - often behind the scenes - to improve the lives of others. They are the Herald's New Zealanders of the Year. Over the next three days we will profile 10 finalists and announce the 11th - and overall winner - in Saturday's Weekend Herald. Our sport and business teams have also nominated finalists, starting from today with the overall winners on Saturday.

Tevita Ngalu shut out the excruciating pain in his injured leg, calmed his thoughts and gave it one last shot for his teammate.

To the amazement of the crowd at the Oceania championships in June, he succeeded in lifting 157kg in the clean and jerk event while effectively balancing on one good leg.

His selfless act gave the New Zealand team enough points to send their top-ranked lifter Richard Patterson to the London Olympics.

New Zealand coach Adam Storey was full of praise at the time for the 39-year-old's courage, when Ngalu had nothing personally to gain and everything to lose by carrying on through the pain.


"The whole stadium was gobsmacked. It was one of the most memorable moments I've seen. Awe- inspiring."

Yesterday Ngalu was modest about his achievement, saying he didn't stop to worry about his own sporting career because the Olympics mattered more.

"The Olympics is one of the biggest events in the world. I was just doing my best to help out New Zealand. That's all I can do."

Ngalu's heroism was born of necessity. Storey had named the super-heavyweight lifter in the team for the Oceania event in Samoa just as Ngalu was tearing his left quad muscle during training and it was too late to make a change.

The Tongan-born athlete slept with ice packed around his leg, feeling "about 40 per cent" but ready if his team needed him for points. They did and he managed a 123kg snatch but ripped the muscle further.

He figured he had enough left for one attempt at the clean and jerk.

When he failed at his first attempt in the Oceania championships doctors told him to stop. Instead Ngalu went out again, nailed the second lift in front of his teammates in the Apia stadium and ensured Patterson would get to London, where he finished a respectable 14th in his 85kg division a few weeks later.

Ngalu says he's still making a gradual recovery from the injury and eyeing a possible switch to the over-35 masters division, once he can see somebody to take over in the New Zealand super-heavyweight division.

"I want to give a chance for the young boys that are coming up. I'm still holding the title for eight years now - I need someone to come and beat me but I'm still waiting."