Israel Adesanya's new picture book that aims to inspire kids

By Aaron Ryan

Additional reporting by Aaron Ryan, Te Rito journalism cadet.

A children's picture book about the life story of one of Aotearoa's top combat sportsmen was launched over the weekend at Auckland's City Kickboxing gym.

Freestyle: The Israel Adesanya Story details Israel Adesanya's family moving from Nigeria and getting through bullying as a child, written by South Auckland children's book author David Riley.

It’s written and illustrated in a way Adesanya feels that kids can read before bedtime.

"It’s about the power of our imaginations. The need to back ourselves. The joy that comes from going for it!"

“When I was a kid, these are the kind of books that would stand out to me on a library shelf, I was never a kid to pick up the big giant Harry Potter books because I'm dyslexic and it wasn’t going to do it for me.”

“So a picture book with cool illustrations, vibrant colours and a cool story to go behind it, those are the stories that stand out to me and the kind of book that I would have picked out.”

"I hope a lot of kids when they run across this on the shelves of the library, they pick it up and get inspired by my story as well."

Author Riley had to do research before writing this children's special which included reading articles and watching video interviews about the UFC star. He thought writing and illustrating about the success of Adesanya wouldn’t be enough, telling his background story was key to making this appealing for children.

“I was reading things about Israel and things he had been through in his life and I thought man this is a story that kids need to hear.

“Because kids don’t really know this stuff, they just see the bout and the fighting but they don’t know his journey and how he got there. So, I really wanted to share that with them.” Riley says.

'Let it inspire you'

Adesanya believes that this book can be a vehicle to provide children with tools they need to get through life's toughest challenges, and not just for youth who wish to become prize fighters when they’re older. 

“I want to see this in the libraries everywhere, but also I want this to inspire, I want this to breathe life. Not to just kids but to anyone that reads this book just to take something from it.”

“Let it inspire you,” Adesanya says.

Riley went through a series of interviews before writing this children's special, which included coach Eugene Bareman and his wife Cara.

He admits something that piqued his interest most was when he interviewed Adesanya in regards to what happened when he was bullied at school as a child.

“What I found most interesting was when I heard about Israel and when he was bullied, a place where he went as a safe haven was the library.

“He picked up a book called Calvin and Hobbes and was inspired by these characters who would use their imagination to come up with some amazing things. Reading these books helped Israel escape briefly about some of the issues he was facing.

“It inspired Israel to use his imagination to become the fighter he is today,” Riley says.

Riley says writing inspirational profile stories such as this one will not be his last. His next project will be writing about Ibrahim Omer, who is a Kiwi politician of African descent. 

He hopes to continue writing about the success stories of minority ethnicities in Aotearoa. 

“These are the things and people I write about, especially Māori and Pacific role models and achievers and people who inspire our young people. Not just sports people but people from all walks of life.”