Personal fitness trainer Vesna Aroha Radonich is an inspiration to many different people.

To waka ama athletes, she is the world’s best, winning gold in solo and team events year after year.

To those with hearing loss, she has faced her own lifelong challenges head on and in 2012, she received her first cochlear implant.

To tangata whaiora in Gisborne, she is a local who has battled depression and fought her way to recovery.

In 2002, Vesna noticed that she was low in energy, wanted to sleep all day, and was very negative about life.

Asking the right questions

She went to her GP, who took blood tests, but they showed nothing untoward.

“So my doctor started asking me questions about myself and how I was feeling,” she says.

“He asked all the right questions, laid out all my symptoms and said I had depression.”

Vesna denied it at first. She didn’t want to talk about it with her family, because she’s seen others in her wider family being ignored and shut away because of their experiences of mental illness.

“I didn’t say anything in case I was an embarrassment to my family,” she says.

“However my mum kept asking me what was wrong, so eventually I told her.”

Vesna’s mother admitted that she too had experienced depression and helped Vesna get the support she needed.

Part of that support involved medication, but Vesna found taking the medication led to weight gain.

Drink water and exercise

She worked out the best way of “counteracting the cravings was to drink lots of water and to exercise”.

“Things that helped me were finding someone [Mum] I could trust and talk to, accepting help from others, and learning to laugh about things later on,” she says.

“I also found keeping active, planning your day, being around positive people, and knowing that the way you are feeling is short term and it will get better also helped.”

A supportive family

“It is my family that give me the support, aroha and drive to succeed. They are always there to listen, pick me up, give me a hug, encourage me and give me determination that I can do it,” Vesna says.

Vesna’s determination to never give up on herself and always strive for success has led not only to her recovery from depression, but also her overwhelming success at waka ama.

With five New Zealand gold medals and five world championship medals, she is clearly one of the best in the world. Some people might call her lucky.

Vesna considers herself a hard worker who, with support, creates her own luck.

Photo credits: banner: Rebecca Grunwell, Gisborne Herald, main image: Jason Oxenham, Suburban Newspapers