28th October, 2021

as seen on Stuff.co.nz

When Mike Lemalie removes his 30 kilogram weighted vest and dives into the ocean at Stirling Point in Bluff on October 30, it will be more than just sore legs and blisters he is hoping to heal. 

A member of the Southland Rugby League community, Lemalie will be walking 60 kilometres in gumboots from Bluff to Invercargill return, with the last 4km through the Bluff township in a weighted vest, to raise money for youth mental health services through Gumboot Friday. 

Lemalie spent several years as a player/coach for Bluff Rugby League Club, which included winning three competitions in a row finishing the 2009 season undefeated. 

It’s a cause that is deeply personal for Lemalie. His son died by suicide in December 2016. 

“The motivation behind the weighted vest is just walking through Bluff with all the heavy weight and burden of all the kids we’ve got down here, and just walking to the point, and washing it away with the water,” he said. 

Since his son’s death, he had been actively assisting youth in Bluff to open up and get help through counselling services, which he believed should be free and available to all youth in New Zealand. 

“Kids need to be able to open up and talk, we can’t help them if they don’t open up. At my son’s funeral I said that to all his friends, and they took me up on it…. It’s just being an ear, I don’t have all the answers, and if I don’t have the answers I try and get them. And that’s how Caroline Loo [From the Invercargill Loss and Grief centre] helped at the start,” he said. 

“I first started going to the counselling sessions with some of the kids, and I still use her as a point of contact for some of them. It’s good, one kid has got his life back on track, and he’s doing really good with his sports, that’s one of the main goals we’ve talked about, to get back to sports.” 

He decided to complete the walk when Gumboot Friday founder Mike King announced earlier this year that the Ministry of Health had rejected his request for funding to provide free counselling for young people. 

“Originally it was just supposed to be to Invercargill, but I thought ‘I live in Bluff, so why not walk home’.” 

The tight-knit community of Bluff had whole-heartedly supported the effort, and many people had been in contact to volunteer their time. 

His work colleagues at Sanford had already ordered 40 hi-vis vests in anticipation of the amount of people that would be walking the route alongside Lemalie. 

So far, he has received more than $4000 in donations. 

Data released by the Office of the Chief Coroner on Monday, revealed there were 44 cases of suspected suicide in Southland and Otago in 2020, down from 47 cases in 2019. 

The rate of death by suspected suicide per 100,000 people in Southland and Otago was 11.7, slightly higher than the national rate of 11.3. 

Able Minds chief executive Sarah Dowie said the fact the number of suspected suicides had fallen by just 21 was a confronting reminder that more work needed to be done to address mental health issues. 

Lemalie began his rugby league journey in 1992, joining his local club the Wainuiomata Lions from u12’s to u18’s. Mike developed his love for the game in these adolescent years  

He spent years in Gisborne and returned to Lower Hutt to play for St Bernard’s College. Lemalie left the game for a few years but his passion did not disappear, rearing to strap on the boots again Mike returned six years later in 2003 playing for Southland club, Bluff. 

In 2006, Lemalie represented Cooks Rugby League and then returned to Bluff as a player coach till 2009. 

Mike has been a representative for the Southland Senior Men’s as both a player and a coach, whilst also coaching both the u15 and u17 Southland teams at the NZRL Youth Tournament. 

Currently Lemalie works in the Southland district controlling senior games and also delving into its junior competition.  

WHERE TO GET HELP 

1737, Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor 

Lifeline – 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland 

Youthline – 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email [email protected] or online chat 

Samaritans – 0800 726 666 

Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) 

What’s Up – 0800 942 8787 (for 5–18 year olds). Phone counselling is available Monday to Friday, midday–11pm and weekends, 3pm–11pm. Online chat is available 7pm–10pm daily. 

Kidsline – 0800 54 37 54 (0800 kidsline) for young people up to 18 years of age. Open 24/7. 

thelowdown.co.nz – or email [email protected] or free text 5626 

Anxiety New Zealand – 0800 ANXIETY (0800 269 4389) 

Rural Support Trust – 0800 787 254 (0800 RURAL HELP) 

Supporting Families in Mental Illness – 0800 732 825