IBF women’s world heavyweight champion Lani Daniels has been welcomed home in Whangārei after her community organised a special homecoming.
Droves of whānau, friends and community supporters crowded Pīpīwai Rd on Friday to welcome Daniels (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Hine) home, who won the heavyweight title at Eventfinda Stadium in Auckland last Saturday.
The historic fight marked the first time a world title was contested between two New Zealand-born boxers and the first time between Māori and Pasifika boxers.
Cheers erupted from the crowd as Daniels, proudly holding her belt, made her way to Tau Henare Marae on a parade trailer.
Orange and green balloons decorated the roadside as well as the trailer, as adoring young onlookers waved at their Wāhine Toa (warrior woman) idol.
Onlookers included students from Te Horo School in Pīpīwai, as well as Te Kura Kaupapa Māori O Taumarere, from Moerewa.
Daniels’ mother, Agnes, said the first time she ever saw her daughter fight, she “just knew” she was good.
After years training in a home-built gym, Daniels has now brought home her world title to the community of Pīpīwai, which is home to around 300 people.
Her mother is justifiably proud of her world champion daughter.
“She wouldn’t be who she is if it wasn’t for home, so I’m really proud of Pīpīwai, I love our whānau, her achievements are our achievements… She’s just our girl.”
Ngaio Tipene said she was there the night Daniels won her world title, cheering her on alongside friends and whānau.
“This is a dream come true, making her community and her people of Pīpīwai proud,” she said.
Tipene is a friend, relative and teacher at Te Kura Kaupapa Māori O Taumarere, with many of its students lining the street to catch a glimpse of their idol on Friday.
“We’ve got some kids amongst us who actually want to be boxers, a lot of our older kids are inspired by her and they’re like, ‘I want to be like her when I get older’”.
Pīpīwai local Whakarongotai Nikora said the day was a way for the community to celebrate together.
“This is a really exciting event for the community to tautoko Lani and all the mahi that she’s put in and also her wider whānau and friends that have supported her so much,” Nikora said.
“To be here and celebrate her coming home, achieving her goal, is amazing.”
Old classmate Erin Fowler said she brought her children along to support Lani.
“I thought it would be cool for the kids to see a strong powerful woman.”
Daniels has been training and living in a West Auckland gym since January, supported by her trainer, John Conway.
Daniels had revealed in a previous interview that she had planned to retire unless the pay was good enough to keep her in the sport.
“Otherwise, I might as well go and work somewhere. At least there’ll be a guaranteed pay cheque,” she said.
Daniels is an on-call mental health nurse at Whangārei Hospital and also helps train community members in her spare time.