Kinahoi's Story

16 May 2023

Kinahoi Usaia, 32, from Newcastle, NSW, has faced many challenges and triumphed over adversity, turning his life around following stints in the justice system and the loss of his sister to suicide. He is now dedicated to mentoring young boys and men. Here, he tells us about how exercise allows him to channel his struggles and stay motivated to keep on getting better and better.

Were you a regular push-uperer, before doing The Push-Up Challenge?  

I’ve been doing push-ups from when I was in jail. Now, since coming out and being a personal trainer, I still do it. I can put my struggles into my push-ups, so it’s a regular thing. 


Why did you decide to sign up to The Push-Up Challenge?

I just want to keep busy. If you don’t have a challenge in front of you, then you’ve got nothing ahead. If you set that challenge, it gives you reason to work out. Mentally, if they’re going through some sh*t, I tell everyone, put that negativity into your workout. With push-ups, at the start you struggle, but the more you do it, the better you get. And that’s just everything you do in life – you can be sh*t at it, but you can keep having a crack at it every day, and you’ll get better.  


Do you have first-hand experience of mental health struggles? 

I’ve struggled my whole life with being in and out of the system. I came from a broken home, from a big family of 11, and we’ve just been in and out. Our parents split up and some of my sisters are in America, some of my brothers are locked up, and one of my siblings lost her life to suicide. So mental health plays a big part in my family, and in my life.

What I try to do now is try to encourage everyone – because I made it out, and I'm trying to help everyone around me and give that light. I tell them that you can make changes, you can see the light. Because right now, I've got a mate whose funeral is on this weekend, and that’s just one thing. I’m coming from the struggle and telling people, don’t give up. Keep going. 


How did you turn your life around? 

Because I've made it out [of the justice system], I've been blessed with running three businesses. I’m a head coach at a gym, and I run a barbershop here in Newcastle, and I custom-make clothes for the shop and for businesses and funerals. I've got all this because after my sister died by suicide, I just wanted to give something back to her.

And with doing all of this, I've won custody of my son. I thought, you know what, it’s going to be hard, but if I be patient and work at it, I might get somewhere. And it took me five years to get custody of him, and ever since then it’s just been a blessing.

I've been telling everyone around me, if you work on the goal, you can apply that to anything in your life. Now I'm just trying to be the one in my family to share the light, and make some changes. I'm visiting schools talking to troubled kids, and kids who have been in juvenile detention centres and jails. I'm talking to them and giving them a way out. 


What was the best part about doing The Push-Up Challenge? 

When I was doing it, I didn’t know it, but I was motivating others who were struggling, or who were looking for a way out. People were then messaging me, ‘Hey, I want to do it too.’ It was giving people goals to reach, that they never thought they could do.

After doing The Push-Up Challenge, I ended up changing over to burpees, and I hit, I think it was, 600 burpees. Reaching things that I never thought I could reach. My mindset was telling me, ‘Try this,’ and I was thinking, if you can do push-ups, you can do that.

And I tell everyone, you've just got to keep hitting goals. If you don’t have a challenge in front of you, you’re just going to go back to drinking. What I see with the push-ups is it opens people’s eyes and it motivates people that you never thought you could motivate.  


Why do you feel like we need to push for better mental health right now?

Well, everyone’s getting it wrong. Everyone thinks you’ve gotta make money. It's not money, it’s health. That's what I'm trying to teach people, health is the first thing you need to take care of. When you start taking care of yourself, you start thinking properly, you start wanting to do better things. That’s what I'm trying to teach the kids that are coming into the barber shop, and in the schools that I go to.


And when a young person comes to you who is struggling or seems like they are depressed at the moment, what do you say to them? 

Well I've had a kid who came in and he was struggling and suicidal - he’d moved from his home in another city to here, and he was struggling to fit in at school. I said to him, ‘Just come around and hang out. You know, you don’t have family, I don’t have family around, so we can be family. Just come in and do your thing. If you want to talk, you can talk, but I'm not gonna force you and say, ‘Tell me what you’re going through.’

And you know, they come in, they get haircuts, we eat together, and then it’s just little talks at a time – you know, ‘How’s things at home? If you don’t feel like dealing with sh*t going down at home, come back, come hang out.’ And now, one of the kids, he wants to be a barber at our shop.

It’s just kind of being the person that I wish I had around me, and trying to nurture the kids. They don’t have guidance, and to see people who’ve been through what they’re going through now, they can relate to it.

I just tell every kid, it’s good to have dirt in your life, because if you don’t have dirt in your life, you can’t get better and better. I say to everyone, the struggle, the dirt, if you don’t have dirt, you can’t upgrade, you can’t be someone to look up to. When I hear negative sh*t, I say, you know what, I love that sh*t, that’s the sh*t that’s going to build you into the character that you’re going to be. Because it’s happened to me.  

Read more participant stories or sign up for the 2023 Push-Up Challenge. 

Reach out to friends and family, a mental health professional, or Lifeline on 13 11 14 if you or someone you know needs support.