Always be you

Always be you

Heldane Harwood has used his experience of personal loss as motivation for achieving his goals and shares this story of how family, friends, and education have helped him.

Heldane Harwood hopes that his story will inspire others.

“Always be you.” These words from my mum, the late Gail Annette Harwood, are something I will always treasure, especially during the dark times. Everything I do will always be for you, mum.

During lockdown I’ve done a lot of reflecting on my journey as a student. I’ve written this in the hope that someone out there will be able to relate to my story and be encouraged. For those offering sympathy–it’s okay, we all end up where we’re destined to go when guided by faith. Please, only smile as you read.

I grew up in a solo-parent home along with my four brothers and had a lot of issues with my dad never being there for me. I built up in my head that no one cared. I didn’t care about myself and would lie to everyone, saying nothing fazed me, but behind closed doors I turned to food as a way of suppressing the emotional hurt. In my second year of studying I had blown up to 298 kgs and I was feeling hopeless.

The turning point came eight months ago, when I lost my mum suddenly.  I’ve faced challenges before and overcome them, but when my mum passed it really hurt and I’m still struggling to come to terms with it. Mum was my everything and she motivated me to prove everyone wrong about who I was. I pledged that I would live my life doing things that would make her proud.  It was during this period of grief and transition that my aunty, who was so worried about mine and my brothers’ health, emailed a man called Dave Letele, the founder of Buttabean Motivation. He dropped everything and came to visit us that same day.

Heldane and his mentor Dave ‘The Brown Buttabean’ Letele.

So far so good on this weight loss journey: I’ve lost 52 kgs. I changed my eating habits using a meal plan, started drinking water, and started exercising as much as my body would allow. I still pinch myself knowing that I was blessed with an opportunity to succeed and ran with it. I’ve had a lot of help, especially from my friend’s dad, Anthony Solomona, who’s great at motivating me. It’s important to have a support group around you, pushing you to be better and willing you to win.  On the sore and tired days, I tell myself that my aches and pains will never be a fraction of the pain of losing my mum. I see the lockdown as an opportunity to upskill in reading, writing, and understanding myself. I just want to be the best version of myself for the queen who raised me and taught me how to be the man I’m striving to be. The support of my brothers also keeps me going, they have been killing it and inspiring me too.

My education has been something I’ve had a love/hate relationship with from the start. As a child I found myself in trouble all the time, was told that I’d amount to nothing and, in Year 9, I was expelled from high school. I wanted to change to be a better person and was committed to my goals. I found it hard to believe that I’d done it when I first became a university student. I had a big problem with who I was, but that changed when I joined the Victoria University Samoan Students Association (VUSSA). I forged many great friendships and a sense of belonging and love that I will always be grateful for. I made better decisions because I didn’t want to let my friends down.

In 2018, I graduated with a BA majoring in Education and Criminology. My mum was very sick but managed to come to graduation and see me walk the stage. I walked straight off the stage and handed her my degree. It was for her. She was crying and told me she was proud of me. That will always be the greatest moment in my life because I also got to walk that stage with a lot of good friends.

During this lockdown journey, I encourage students to continue to be the best version of themselves. “Always be you”, always believe in yourself, never listen to the haters, and step out in faith because when you do, you will achieve great things.

Heldane Harwood is a postgraduate student studying for a Graduate Diploma in Arts. Listen to Heldane’s interview with the Pasifika Students Success team.

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