When Pohatu Higgs stands up on the body-building stage rippling with muscles, he's fit, strong and it’s hard to believe he was once told he would never walk again.
The personal trainer from Tauranga has a brain and spinal condition called chiari (pron kiari) malformation which causes scoliosis, resulting in three curves in his spine and paralysis in his lower body.
“It’s definitely been a struggle, to say the least. Definitely, there’s been a lot of negative feedback when I started to get into bodybuilding just because people were very unsure about my condition and what kind of effect it would have on me.”
He’s had multiple surgeries to stop the condition's progress and uses crutches and a wheelchair to stay mobile.
“I’ll be walking around the gym and then I’d just suddenly collapse because my legs would give out but that’s just something I’ve learned to deal with.”
Pohatu Higgs on the IFBB stage. Source: File
Higgs has competed in New Zealand Federation of Body Building and Fitness (NZIFBB) competitions and has been coached by professional bodybuilder Kurt Dell.
Along the journey, Higgs says people have doubted his ability, causing him to also doubt himself.
“The psychological effect was definitely something that I struggled with but at the same time, I definitely did not like to be told I wasn’t able to do something. All I really wanted to do was to prove to everyone else and to myself as well that this isn’t something that can hold me back. Just because the game plan has to change doesn’t mean the end result has to change.”
Higgs was not born with the condition and only started getting symptoms when he was 19.
“Up until then I was always into rugby and it was in my first year out of high school when I was at my first personal training course and I remember one of New Zealand’s top bodybuilders at the moment Steve Horton walked into the gym and I was just like ‘wow’. Ever since then I was hooked.”
Since Higgs couldn’t run anymore, his favourite sports at the time, rugby and league were out of the picture.
“So I wanted to find the next kind of thing that I might be able to do. Some days my legs don’t work. I’ll just use my wheelchair in the gym. I’ll just drag myself to the gym it doesn’t hold me back.”
Higgs says he hit rock bottom when the condition first occurred.
“I didn’t deal with it very well but I guess over the years, you just get used to it.”
He says he is in chronic pain 24/7 and he chooses not to take the medication needed because he can’t function properly with it.
“It’ll numb the pain but I can’t work or anything like that. The mental side of it is the hardest part I’ve found because at least with the physical pain I can kind of pinpoint where the pain is coming from rather than the mental side.”
Higgs is about to become a father, with his partner pregnant with a boy. He says he hopes to teach his son to chase his dreams.
“If you want something. If you’ve got a dream, you’ve got to protect it. No matter what happens in life, just because the game plan has to change, the end result does not have to change, you just have to find another way around it, he says.
“The only limitation is in your mind and once you can unlock the key to your mind honestly the world is your oyster. Anything is possible really.”