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Saturday 08 April 2017

Digging in for Nepal: Aaron's latest challenge

Posted in: Hall of Fame
By Jacqui Stanford - 9th May 2015

A gay athlete and motivational speaker who has been through some mighty challenges of his own is helping raise money for the recovery of a village in Nepal.


In the past 10 years Aaron Fleming has raised more than $30,000 for charities, primarily for cystic fibrosis.

“This year I decided it was time to support good causes of my friends, as my way of giving something back for all the support I've received. A good friend of mine knows people living in Dhading Village which was completely destroyed by the quake,” he tells

“Their family of six are now living in a tent, along with the rest of the community. The average annual income in Nepal is $3,000 so a little bit of money can go a long way to help - and I wanted to play my part.”

Tonight a fundraiser will be held at Café Agora in Hamilton at 7pm. Local Nepali will attend, and Fleming will share his story of overcoming massive challenges to keep competing in Ironmans – and let people hold an Olympic Torch from the Beijing Olympics which he was selected to carry.

He’s also donating the proceeds from his book Purpose to the fundraiser.

Purpose tells his rousing life story – the keen Taupo-raised athlete was a gymnast who had dreams of representing New Zealand. But in 1999, as a teenager, his right lung spontaneously collapsed, something that then happened twice more.

Surgeries followed and he was told he would never be able to physically over-exert himself ever again. As his health deteriorated he became addicted to painkillers and became chronically depressed.

Ultimately he worked to get his life back on track and moved to Wellington to go to university. Boldly he decided he would compete in the 2006 New Zealand Ironman, inspired by wanting to make a difference to young New Zealanders with cystic fibrosis.

He couldn’t swim, bike, or run and had to start from scratch.

Since then, he has (not without many fresh challenges) completed six Ironmans, including the Asia Pacific Championship in Melbourne six weeks ago.

In 2008 he was selected as New Zealand's Ambassador to carry the Olympic Torch in Canberra for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, he often tells his life story as a motivational speaker.

Fleming’s also faced the challenge those in our communities can relate to - coming out.

“I was 22 when I came out and was living in Wellington at that time. My friends were amazingly supportive, but what I didn't expect was just how hard it would be for my family. It was one of the toughest things I had to do and it hurt.

“My parents didn't take it well and were not expecting it, but just as I needed time to learn about who I was, I needed to give my parents time to come to terms with the fact that I was the same person that they had always loved, that being gay wasn't a choice of mine, and that it wasn't anyone's fault. It took time, patience, and more time.

“Thankfully I had an amazing support network in my friends and flat mates. But I'm very proud to say that my parents are now very accepting, they treat my partner like a son, and even help and coach other parents who are going through what they went through. I'm proud of them.”

Fleming says over the years he has helped people through coming out, and says anyone who wants to talk shouldn’t hesitate to get in touch.

He says young aspiring gay athletes should live their dream, be brave and be proud.

“Your sexuality should never be a barrier to achieving your best, and in my experience sport has been a healthy coping mechanism for me to think, challenge myself, push boundaries and achieve. Anything is possible if you put your mind to it.

“There are also many gay athletes out there, there are many of us in triathlon and we all support each other.”

To get a copy of his book and help out Dhading Village in Nepal, email him at or drop him a message on Facebookor Twitter

“I can get you a copy in the post straight away and can write a note inside for you, or for a friend if it is as a gift to someone. It's not a book available in book stores as it was a project that I wanted to ensure it made a difference so the profit goes to good causes.”

If you are in or near Hamilton and want to hear more of Aaron's story, head along to Cafe Agora (Agora Building 13 Kent Street, Frankton) at 7pm for the Nepal fundraising event.
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Jacqui Stanford - 9th May 2015