It was in the 1980s when the Salvation Army amateur boxing team were about to leave the PWD Canteen (now known as the Commander Stan Brown’s Boxing Gym) in Walu Bay, when they noticed that one of their boxers was missing.
They returned to the dressing room and found him unconscious.
The unconscious boxer was rushed to the Colonial War Memorial Hospital (CWMH), where he was diagnosed and found to be on drugs.
The quick action of his team-mates saved his life; he was admitted at CWMH for a few days before he was handed over to Police.
This marked the end of Marika Yalimaiwai’s promising career as an amateur boxer.
Looking back, Yalimaiwai, 54, said being raised up at Jittu Estate, a place known for its criminal activities, was not the reason for his involvement with drugs.
“It was simply peer pressure,” Yalimaiwai said.
“I started boxing while in primary school. My dad Jone Marika Yalimaiwai who worked with the Fiji Navy introduced us to the sport.”
Yalimaiwai joined the Salvation Army Club in Raiwaqa when he got to high school.
This was where he trained and sparred with many of Fiji’s top amateur boxers like Netani Gucake, Amanaia Dakai, Inoke Qarau, Tomasi Bukalidi, Mataiasi Curusese, Edward Campbell, Mataiasi Tagicakibau, Joe Fabiano, Luke Gavidi, Josefa Qaqa, Kuliniasi Vasu and the list goes on.
“I was the youngest member of the club and got the nickname Kaji.”
Yalimaiwai said he fought in the light welterweight division and was progressing well in the sport.
“I had set my goal to make the national team and target to make it to the South Pacific Games and the Commonwealth Games but my ultimate dream was to fight in the Olympics.”
He said training with top amateur boxers at the Salvation Army club inspired him to excel.
“On the other hand, I guess being the youngest boxer and being among those boxers might have got to me and led me to make some wrong decisions which I later regretted,” he said.
His involvement in drugs saw the end of his boxing career but it did not deter him from making a comeback to the ring.
Not to box, but instead train, advise and mentor young people on how they could use their sporting talents to make it in life.
“That is my life after sports,” Yalimaiwai said.
“I came to a point of realisation that despite ruining my sporting career I could still help young people make the right choices in life and achieve their sporting dreams.”
New Lease In Life
Yalimaiwai underwent various training programmes and was accredited with the Ministry of Youth and Sports, Fiji Police Force, various Non-Government Organisations (NGOs)s and the Seventh Day Adventist Church.
He is a qualified fitness trainer and once helped various secondary schools around Suva during the Deans Trophy.
With the help of a few friends the Jittu Boxing Stable (JBS) in Raiwai they set-up and started training young boxers.
“I was fortunate to have someone like Mr Fuata when we first started. He helped me train young boxers as I counseled them on the need to stay away from drugs.”
JBS is a multiracial club; it won the national amateur boxing championship three years in-a-row (2005-2008).
‘We’ve had members of the club who have migrated overseas and have done well for themselves,” he said.
“We once had a Tuvalu student Lavena Vilitati training with us who is now with the British Army.
“World Boxing Foundation Austaralian title holders Sachin Mudaliar and Sakiusa Mekemeke were with us at the start of their careers.
“Vereniki Sauturaga trained and helped around in the gym, and then he went on to play for Naitasiri and the Flying Fijians at the 2007 Rugby World Cup.
“For me their success brings in a lot of satisfaction as well.
“There are also some members of the club that made wrong decisions and ended up in jail. We visit them and encourage them to return and train with us when they are released.”
Today, Yalimaiwai is a Drugs and Substance Abuse trainer with the Ministry of Youth and Sports assisting them in their outreach programmes in the Eastern Division.
“Apart from the drugs and substance abuse training, I also introduce aerobics and keep fit programmes to help in the fight against Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs),” he said.
He is also grateful to the assistance from the Fiji Police Force drug unit where he works closely with the officer in charge of Drug Intelligence Unit, Assistant Superintendent Anare Masitabua.
Yalimaiwai’s community and sports networking saw him being a recipient of the Duke of Edinburgh Award.
For the Totoya, Lau, native his work is far from over.
This week more than 20 young amateur boxers (some school students) around Jittu marched into camp to prepare for next Monday’s Big Fight programme at the Commander Stan Bown’s Boxing Gym in Walu Bay.
“To me this is a Godly calling. I feel for these young boys and girls as they try to make it in life,” he said.
“I did mess up my sporting career and although my children opted for other things in life apart from sports, it does not stop me from fulfilling my dream – helping other young people achieve.”