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Latter-day Saint Health Practices Give Hamilton Athlete a Lift at World Championships

Tony McKenna 1

As a youth Tony McKenna loved all sports, but was partial to rugby.  Soon after being selected for the Hamilton Marist Senior Rugby Squad and having a Waikato Rugby trial in 1971 his life changed dramatically. 

He was hitch-hiking from Taupo to Hamilton when a four-wheel drive truck towing a trailer and stock car jack knifed and hit him.  It should have taken his life, but he was spared and only spent one night in the hospital much to the surprise of the hospital staff. 

The effects of the accident began soon after.  He realized that he could no longer play rugby at the same standard no matter how much he trained and exercised.  For the next twenty five years he suffered with recurring back problems.

As a young man he became interested in several sports but because his family moved often he would change sports in each new community only to move again. Tony’s proudest achievement during this time was, in the mid 1960’s, running against Peter Snell, the triple Olympic Champion.

After the accident Tony had a friend who introduced him to another type of activity ― theatre.  He enjoyed the new friendships and being part of the cast and doing something totally outside his comfort zone. He performed in many musicals including West Side Story, King and I and Man of LaMancha

During this period Tony was introduced to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.   “Many of my questions were answered by the missionaries who taught me especially the doctrine on the Trinity,” he says.   During this time he joined the Church, fell in love with and married Susan Bedford, a former Church College student in the NZ Temple.  They are the parents of three children—two boys and one girl. They now have five grandchildren.

An avid reader, Tony studied the gospel of Jesus Christ and the specific teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. One teaching that he became very interested in was the Latter-day Saint health code, known as “The Word of Wisdom.”  He was fascinated by the promises made for adherence to this code. Little did he know that 40 years later that promise would be manifested.

He realized the importance of good health, good eating habits, and abstinence from alcohol, tobacco, tea and coffee.  This was already part of his personal philosophy. Additionally, as a personal choice, he does not use Cola drinks or any flavor of fizzy drink nor uses the popular pre competition caffeine energy products. He takes a barley sugar sweet for pre competition energy.

Tony remained a frustrated sportsman, however, feeling unfulfilled in sports and wanting to achieve something. He tried again in his early forties competing in ten kilometer road races.  Once again back problems stopped his training schedule. With virtually no training he did run a sub 40 minute 10 kilometer race, well off his goal of a sub 30 minute run.

Approximately five years ago he saw a picture of an Olympic weight lifter and said to himself, “I can do that.” He contacted coach Scott Parsons, a British Commonwealth Powerlifting Champion to train him and now works faithfully to improve his strength, flexibility and technique. 

Tony’s favourite scripture has now become Isaiah 40:29 which he recites quietly before each competition, “ He giveth power to the faint and to them that have no might he increaseth strength”.

Tony McKenna 2

As a teenager in school Tony was a natural for weight lifting.  He was strong for his size and could out-lift many of the bigger boys, but he never competed. What he was lifting as a 14 yr old under 50kg schoolboy would still be a New Zealand Schools record today.  Now, years later at 61, he has represented New Zealand in Orlando, Florida (2013), winning two medals in the World Masters Powerlifting Championships in the under 83kg division. He is now looking forward to the World Championships in Denver, Colorado, USA in 2015. He recently won gold at the British Commonwealth Championships.

Hard work, determination, discipline, sacrifice and training four times a week have contributed to Tony’s success. But Tony credits the greatest reason for his success to his strict living of Latter-day Saint health practices. Tony has amazing strength and flexibility for his age according to his coach. 

“The Word of Wisdom is easy to live and the benefits are powerful. I am proof that we can be blessed with strength in the loins and sinews and to run and not be weary and walk and not faint”.

Read more about Latter-day Saint health practices.





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