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John Schuster was known for his hard hits on the rugby union and league fields but now he's taking them for the Fight For Life boxing fundraiser on June 6. Like training partner Bill English his reasons for participating are personal and his respect for boxing is greatly enhanced. Chris Mirams of The Evening Post spoke with the former All Black.
When organiser Dean Lonergan rang John Schuster in late March to ask if the former All Black and league convert would participate in the June 6 boxing fundraiser for the prevention of youth suicide, he didn't have to make a second call.
The 37-year-old Schuster said yes on the spot, having experienced the traumas youth suicide can cause. A niece had been suicidal and Schuster witnessed the pain of the immediate and extended family as it tried to help.
"It's a terrible experience," he explained. "And if it (participating) makes a difference then it's worthwhile."
But what he initially under-estimated was the level of training and commitment required for those taking part in the June 6 event in Auckland.
He watched some of last year's live telecast thinking, like many others, it would be a bit of a laugh and a chance for old warriors to break into a sweat. As he watched he realised it was more serious than that. But that memory had faded by the time he said yes to Lonergan - till he stepped into the Porirua Boxing Club gym of Chris Kenny.
A hard-running midfielder, Schuster played 26 games including 10 tests for the All Blacks from 1987-89 before switching to league and playing in Australia and the United Kingdom.
Although he had done some boxing training in league he had never been inside the ring.
"I thought we might turn up and fight on the night and didn't realise how much training was required and the time involved," he said. "But once you get into it the training is enjoyable.
"There's a lot more to it than just throwing punches and . . . a lot of psychological preparation."
Schuster has been training and sparring with National Party leader Bill English and believes working alongside a fellow novice has helped enormously.
His opponent is former Kiwi Tea Ropati, who is a similar size and age. Ropati fought Frank Bunce last year.
"He's had a taste of it and will be able to adapt to the environment but I'll give it my best shot."