Buck Stowers was once one of New Zealand’s strongest men, but when it comes to strength of heart, mind and character, the 50-year-old father-of-six surely still is. A decade ago, Buck created the Big Boys, Big Girls programme aimed at reducing obesity, which he runs from his Manukau Genetics Gym.
“I’ve trained Warriors, All Blacks, rowers and wood choppers,” says Buck. “All those things were wonderful, but ultimately, it didn’t cut it. For me there was more to life than just working with people who already had abs. The hard job, the real training, was in saving someone’s life. I changed the direction of the business and my mentor told me it was business suicide. I told him not to let the door hit his arse on the way out, because that’s what I was going to do.” The death of his mother from heart disease, too, spurred Buck on.
Stowers is not prone to pessimism. Or self-pity. He jokes that he’s fast becoming the bionic man, now onto his 20th operation, his left leg is held together by 27 screws and two metal plates, his body punished by years of body building, rugby league and American Football. His powers of determination are legendary. Dyslexic, he taught himself to read and write having been expelled from school. Buck admits that he wasn’t the greatest businessman, but, getting results in the gym, he soon got noticed.
“ProCare approached me and asked for a meeting,” says Buck. “They said that we were being more successful in helping people lose weight that anybody else out there and they wanted to know how we were doing it. They said that they’d like to make my programme regional, the whole of Auckland, so that all of the 1,200 GPs had the right to refer their patients to me and gave the contract there and then.”
Buck doesn’t call his programme a weight-loss one, rather one for addiction, concentrating as much on the dietary needs of his clients as their exercise regimes. “We talk about the addiction and not so much the food,” says Stowers. “We were the first ones in New Zealand to bring up food as an addictive substance, sugar especially. What it does to the brain is similar to cocaine or methamphetamine. It may not release as much dopamine as them, but all those small amounts – doughnuts, sugar in tea – add up to thousands of hits over a week, compared to the four or five someone may experience through drugs.”
Buck fears that little is being done to tackle the growing obesity problem at school level, with not enough PE teachers at primary age, then lack of emphasis placed on exercise later on: “You can get thousands of dollars of dental work done while you’re still at school, but your health is not being adequately cared for. My long-term plan is to help as many children as I can, but the best way for me to do that is the help the parents first. How else can you change the patterns in the house? The Big Boys, Big Girls programme teaches the leaders of the community, so that they can teach the youth.”
Buck has come up with a novel way of reducing the risk of clients quitting the programme too, by making them train in pairs. “They then encourage and support each other,” he says. “It’s okay if they let me down, but it’s much harder for them to let down a close friend or family member. That’s one of their strengths, that community spirit.”
Buck has rightly been recognised for his Herculean efforts, the recipient of a host of gongs including a People’s Choice NZ Pacific Sports Award and New Zealand Local Hero, not to mention a couple of nominations for the prestigious New Zealander of the Year. “The job was never there before, it’s something that I have created,” beams Buck. “There are hard times, but it’s an extremely rewarding path. I am helping save lives. But it’s not about ‘me’, it’s about ‘we’. I need to show people love so that they can understand what love is. People are so screwed up on themselves, their nice car, their house, but we should concentrate more on others. Love for each other is important, not love for ourselves. Love was never meant to be kept, it was meant to be given. It’s the greatest power on earth and it’s not used properly. I want to help change that.”
Buck would like to thank Matthew Newman at South Auckland Motors for their support.
Words: Jamie Christian Desplaces