Mother of five Jamie Nepia lost her leg after being shot during a domestic dispute in 2018. To reclaim her sense of power she started training for MMA and is preparing to compete at the World Kickboxing Association Champs in Ireland later this year.
"It's a proud moment representing our country because this is an opportunity of a lifetime," she told Te Ao with Moana reporter Jessica Tyson.
Nepia, of Ngāti Porou and Ngāti Tama, trains at MMA Disputed, a gym in her hometown Masterton, with the help of her coach Emilio Johnson.
“I’ve just watched her grow just massively. Her commitment here in the gym is awesome,” Johnson says.
Jamie with some of her support crew and whānau, coach Emilio Johnson and Jania Russo. Source: File
Nepia started going to MMA Disputed a year and a half after losing her leg. The shooting incident happened on December 2, 2018, across the road from her mum’s house on Dixon Street.
The gunman and two others drove to the house looking to have it out with Jamie’s partner of the time. An argument broke out and Jamie crossed the road to protect her mother but became the target.
“You just go red and you run. You run over there and you try your hardest to protect her, and that's what I tried to do. Got him onto the road, turned around and then he shot me,” she says.
The gunman shot Nepia with a sawn-off shotgun. Its pellets ripped into her left thigh.
“I remember feeling a burning sensation and I think my body kicked into shock,” Nepia says.
“Looking around, seeing the sunset and a lot of people around me screaming, when I thought it was me screaming… Flicking through every single one of my children, every single one of their faces like, this is it. I'm not coming back from this. That was scary.”
Jamie was bleeding on the street as the getaway car almost reversed into her. She was rushed to hospital where she stayed for months as surgeons fought to save her leg.
“They took nerves from my right leg and put it into my left leg and took a big skin graft, took a big chunk from my back of my muscle. Seven days later the nerve gave away. The surgeons asked me, ‘Do you want to do this again? Do you want to pull out another nerve?’”
Jamie in hospital before the amputation. Source: File
With the support of whānau Jamie chose to amputate above the knee. Recovery was long and difficult.
“I used to lock myself in the room, having bad days, closed curtains, didn't want nothing to do with the world. Looking at myself, no leg. That was really heart-breaking for me.”
But walking through the doors of MMA Disputed has been a major help in her journey.
“I might have something happening on in a day and I get to just leave it at the door for two hours and I get to go into the gym and I work. It makes me feel absolutely amazing.”
Jamie standing in front of a photo of her beloved koroua, Epineha Ratapu. Source: File
Nepia also finds her inspiration from her koroua (grandfather) Epineha Ratapu, the second to last veteran of the famed Māori Battalion, which saw action in some of the most heated battles of the World War II. He died in 2020, aged 98.
“He went over to another country and fought and now I'm going over to another country but doing different fighting,” Nepia says.
She says she remembers her koro for his big smile, his big ears and how he was always laughing.
“He was always good at pulling jokes,” she says.
“I remember him coming into the hospital and he comes over to the bed – he’s in his wheelchair too – and he called me Hoppy because I used to hop everywhere. Anyway, he came in and he was like, ‘You’re going to be a basketball player’.”
But she chose MMA instead.
Coach Johnson says, “She turned up on with crutches the first day and I told her ‘You need to get rid of those because, if you're gonna come into the gym, I don't want you to walk in with these crutches’.”
So she did, with the help of a new prosthetic leg.
“I love my prosthetic, absolutely love it. This is the reason why I walk today. It gives me what I need,” Nepia says.
Coach Emilio Johnson has taught Jamie how to fight in both stances. Source: File
Johnson says they’ve figured out ways to make training easier for her with the prosthetic by teaching her to fight in both stances.
“She still has to skip, still has to do the sprawls that we do here, training the same training the other guys have to do,” says Johnson.
“Even when she's not well or her leg hurts, she'll still turn up to the gym and shows her face. A lot of our guys have been sick and haven't turned up. Jamie's just that one person that you guarantee that she'll be here at the gym.”
Nepia trains for two hours a day and has a strict diet in preparation for the World Kickboxing and Karate Association World Championships where she will compete as an amputee boxer.
To help get her there she has a givealittle page where people can donate to help cover the costs of airfares, transport, accommodation the official New Zealand team uniforms and more.
Jamie Nepia will represent Aotearoa at the World Kickboxing and Karate Association World Championships in Ireland in November. Source: File
"My journey has been incredibly challenging. However, I have learnt to see the beauty in everything. As I continue to push boundaries and exceed expectations, I would appreciate any and all support towards my givealittle page," she wrote on the page.
Following the incident in 2018, the gunman, Rex Daley, was sentenced to eight and a half years in jail for the shooting. His partner, Tiana Walker-Dahlberg, received a sentence of two years and four months in jail.
Nepia says, “There is a lot of forgiveness that's involved. You can forgive people but I won't forget what's happened,” she says.
“I say to people, just take one step at a time, definitely one step at a time. Life is so short. It can be ripped away from you any moment.”