Tristram Clayton girded his loins, trained like a madman and boxed his way to glory for suicide prevention.

Boxing isn't a sport genetics had in mind when putting me together.

My nose is too big, my neck too long, my arms too spindly.

So why last Saturday did I find myself in the middle of a boxing ring, surrounded by 500 amped up spectators, about to fight someone I'd never met?

The answer, like so much in life, is a combination of chance and secret longing.


A few months earlier I'd interviewed mental health advocate Mike King when he mentioned a 'fight for life' style fundraiser for his suicide prevention charity.

On a whim he suggested I should give it a go.

On a whim I said "why not".

Of course my answer wasn't completely unrehearsed - I'd always liked the idea of learning a martial art but work, family and love of the fermented grape had made the commitment required a distant dream.

But this time it was different - I'd made an on-camera promise, it was for a cause very close to my heart and a summer of excess had left me at a fitness low-point.

What I didn't know was that both mentally and physically, I was about to go much lower.

Training started at 6am on February 7.

The 50 wannabe boxer volunteers had been divided into two teams who'd train at different gyms, under different coaches and only meet on Fight Night on May 13.

My 'Blue' team's coach was former world welterweight champion Daniella Smith.

Daniella's coaching philosophy was simple and crystal clear: "Don't talk when I'm talking; trust me and my plan; never give up."

Needless to say, we clashed immediately.

My life-long habit of questioning authority (and dismally slow progress at learning new boxing combos) made me a regular target for her fiery put-downs and creative 'French'.

As for how she was going to turn 25 mostly overweight, unfit office workers into lean, mean fighting machines, well that part of her strategy was based on two basic principles.

The first was her deceptively simple 'game plan' - three basic boxing combinations that we were to practice until they became so deeply ingrained in our subconscious, that we really would start dreaming about them.

The second part of her plan was to train harder than our opponents in the Red team.

This meant the initial three days a week training we'd all signed up for soon became five and not long after that five became six or even seven.

Friends, family, jobs were squeezed in around our punishing schedule and growing number of bumps and bruises.

But with the pain came the gain.

Two months into our training, the same rag-tag bunch who'd struggled to do the warm-up when we first arrived had already lost a total of more than 100 kilos.

At the end of three months, it was closer to 200 kilos.

Tristram Clayton, in blue, prevails over Carl Thomson in the Heavy Hitters charity boxing event.
Tristram Clayton, in blue, prevails over Carl Thomson in the Heavy Hitters charity boxing event.

Words like Cameron, Rock and Slip Roll 3-2 had become part of our daily language.

Team chants and motivational quotes (originally the subject of scorn and mockery) were now an integral and valuable part of our training.

And a group of strangers had become a fiercely loyal team.

Then suddenly it was fight night and the steadily growing fear that three months of sweat and tears could end in a world of hurt and humiliation burst out into the open.

For more on Mike King's charity, go to, or call 0800 256 7376.
For charity boxing, go to

Nerves, nausea, nightmares - but also the gritty determination to complete the journey come-what-bloody-may.

As coach had predicted, most of our training was lost in an avalanche of anxiety and exhaustion, but the smidgen of skills and fitness that did remain were enough to see us finish our fights, to hear the final bell.

No real hurt.

No humiliation.

Just elation and exhilaration.

I was lucky enough to come out on top, but the joy I felt was much bigger than a raised hand.

To paraphrase Sir Edmund Hillary, it wasn't the mountain I'd conquered, but myself.

Where to get help:

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
Samaritans 0800 726 666
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.