Dion Tainui: A rugby expertise misplaced to medicine and diabetes

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Dion Honi Tainui could have been a household name. Instead, he recently died after a life ravaged by drug use, diabetes, heart attack, and a brain tumor that left him without memory.

It’s a reality that his parents Ursula and Honi Tainui, as well as his brother Mark and older sister Kelley Clifton, find it difficult to understand.

Although they knew he was using methamphetamine, the level of drug use the 47-year-old was using only became apparent at the funeral. A number of people commented on his drug habit, which Kelley said came as a shock to them.

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Dion suffered from diabetes and kidney failure, his health had deteriorated rapidly over the past six months, and an attack of pneumonia was fatal.

Drug use and diabetes took a toll on Dion Tanui.

Drug use and diabetes took a toll on Dion Tanui.

It was a life that could have been so different. His father was a highly talented first-five who had a stellar career at the Naenae and Avalon rugby clubs in Lower Hutt. His uncle Paul Tainui played for the New Zealand Navy. A brother, Mark, and a cousin Dean played premier rugby, but there was general agreement that it was Dion who had the talent.

Despite playing 100 top-notch games for Avalon in the Wellington competition, there was a level of frustration Dion never did justice to himself.

There was always murmur in the locker room that he was disruptive and not making the most of his considerable talent.

That didn’t stop him from playing for Wellington B, Hawke’s Bay, and a New Zealand Maori 15. He also played for Münster and in Australia.

Kelley Clifton regrets not having done more to help her brother Dion Tainui.

KEVIN STENT

Kelley Clifton regrets not having done more to help her brother Dion Tainui.

He was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 30. His career ended in the mid-2000s, but there were already signs that everything was not going well.

Clifton admits he used drugs in rugby but has no idea how the habit started. In his mid-30s he developed a brain tumor the size of an apple.

The tumor stole his memory, and since he couldn’t remember whether he had taken his insulin, his diabetes was often uncontrolled. Kidney failure ensued and the dire reality was that in such poor health he could not receive a life-saving transplant.

Clifton is remarkably open about her brother’s life and doom, and hopes that people will learn from her brother’s death.

Dion Tainui was 47 years old and left a family who struggled to understand what had gone wrong.

KEVIN STENT

Dion Tainui was 47 years old and left a family who struggled to understand what had gone wrong.

The reality, she says, is that the family had no experience of drug use and did not know how to identify or deal with the warning signs.

Attempts to discuss his health and offer help ended in arguments, and Dion had a habit of walking away when challenged.

If she could turn back the clock, she would do more to help him manage his diabetes and she would also do more to confront him about his drug use.

She says her brother was not only a talented rugby player, but also a talented dealer who learned new skills quickly and loved helping people.

Dean Simpson met Dion when he came to Avalon to coach their premier team. At this point, Dion downplayed the grades and battled the disease.

Dion had played 99 Premier games and asked Simpson if he could play his 100th game. Simpson agreed, and Dion worked hard to get himself fit enough to play.

Dion Tainui is remembered as a man with a cheeky smile and a rugby player with real talent.

Dion Tainui is remembered as a man with a cheeky smile and a rugby player with real talent.

Simpson remembers Dion for his “cheeky grin” and for his natural abilities.

“He was a talented player who wasn’t getting the level he should be because of his problems, but he was always able to play at the highest level.”

Clifton has only fond memories of watching Dion in the footie field.

“He was a very good rugby player, I loved watching him play. He should have gone a lot further than him … it was great to see him. “

It makes her sad that he didn’t make better use of his gift for rugby.

“What kept Dion from going any further as a rugby player was the drugs, definitely the drugs, because he didn’t have diabetes at the time.”

Dion Tainui is survived by four children, Keriana, Jakib, Trinity and Paige and was a part-time father of Connor.

Where can I get help?

  • For help with methamphetamine, please contact METHHELP
  • For help with diabetes, please contact Diabetes New Zealand