Ex-Levinite Karlo Witana has recently realised one of his dreams. He became a world champion in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) in his class.
He started BJJ four years ago back home in Levin and two years ago decided to move to Auckland to dedicate himself fulltime to the sport and compete as much as possible to gain experience.
Last month he travelled to Los Angeles with a New Zealand national team to compete in his first world championship and won gold.
"I like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu because it is about problem solving and it is really hard work. I enjoy hard work," he said.
While in Levin Witana won two regional championships and said he wanted to get really good at the sport. Steve Oliver from Oliver MMA in Auckland offered him a spot in his gym. "I train six days a week, about twice, sometimes three times a day."
Witana works part-time jobs when he can to help pay the bills. "I help out at the gym, do gardening and cleaning jobs as they become available.
"The gym is really supportive. They are teaching me a lot and also offer private sessions to help me work on my skills."
This year he qualified for the first time for the New Zealand team, allowing him to compete at worlds. New Zealand had 15 competitors at these world championships and they all did really well, said Witana.
His goal is to be a world champion black belt one day and compete across the different organisations that offer BJJ. "Ultimately I'd like to compete in Mixed Martial Arts and one day start my own gym," he said.
From small and tough beginnings in Levin, this 24-year-old has big plans for himself and his young family. His partner is very supportive, he said, and he is a doting dad of four kids.
He has a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and plans to get the purple belt next year. The sport starts with a white belt, then there is blue, purple, brown and black. "Usually it takes you 10 years to get to black belt, though it will go faster if you compete a lot."
After the world championships he went on competing in San Diego and training with local martial artists. Last weekend he won another gold medal there.
"They are awesome," he said. "I can train at a really good gym here and spar with other world champions. They offer a training camp as well as extra classes in particular skills."
His biggest concern is staying injury free as he seeks out more opportunities to compete and improve his skills.
The Taitoko School and Levin Intermediate old boy said life was tough growing up in Levin, but that doesn't have to stop you.
"If you have a dream, if you believe in that dream, work hard and do not give up, you can achieve anything."