In the face of adversity, Craig McDougall maintains a perspective that is less self-centered and more community-oriented. He doesn’t prefer to be in the limelight but, out of necessity, he finds himself at the forefront of this tale. He has found a sacred and rewarding purpose, not in seeking external validation, but in improving the lives of those around him. This was acknowledged when he was named the 2013 Hawke’s Bay Person of the Year, and recipient of the Vodafone World of Difference and Kiwibank community leader awards.
Being a well-respected boxing coach and mentor, he’s no stranger to battling challenges. Notwithstanding, his recent bout with oesophageal cancer has pitched him in a life struggle unlike anything else.
After McDougall received an ominous diagnosis suggesting his condition might be managed palliatively than curatively, he began arduous ongoing treatment with chemotherapy. But between procedures, he still finds time to provide for the Hawke’s Bay Youth Trust and Giants Boxing Academy – the community organizations he founded – demonstrating resilience that belies his health predicament.
In his younger years, McDougall aspired to represent New Zealand in boxing at the Olympics – a dream that didn’t materialize due to personal circumstances. Later in life, he aimed to swim across Cook Strait, a venture that was aborted mid-way when a then unidentified tumour sapped his strength. As he recounts these unfinished journeys, McDougall now faces a new, gruelling mountain to climb.
Yet, with an indomitable spirit, he declares, “This has it all on the line and we can be scared of it or we can dive in and give all the teaching I give to all these kids and families and put it into my life and go ‘yeah, we’ll win this battle.’”
Symptoms of McDougall’s cancer were stealthily creeping in for eight years before the diagnosis, making it increasingly difficult for him to perform simple activities like eating. Typically, the form of cancer he battles is more prevalent among older, high-risk individuals. But McDougall, 47 years old, physically robust and ebullient, refuses to fit into such a profile. He remains open-minded while exploring alternative medicinal approaches as he continues fulfilling his commitment to the Hawke’s Bay youth.
McDougall wants to ensure his plight is a learning curve for others, too. “As long as I get this right and get through it, which I have every intention of doing, this experience is going to help others,’’ he reassures his community. An outpouring of support has led to a fundraising campaign to offset his medical treatments at the Sanoviv Medical Institute in Mexico, showing the deep impact he’s had on those around him.
However, it’s the overwhelming sentiments of affection from the Hawke’s Bay community that momentarily shake his demeanor, as he remarks, “It gets a little emotional for me. I do a lot of heart-to-heart stuff with people, but it’s a bit different when you hear this emotion pouring back.’’
Away from the spotlight, he’s just a humble man wishing everyone around him has the same kind of support, even as he faces his own vulnerabilities amid treatment. He discourages pity and instead urges a reflection on the silver linings of his circumstances.
Despite the trials that he faces, McDougall stays optimistic and appreciative of the chance to prepare should the worst case unfold. However, his fighting spirit doesn’t wane, and his story continues as he supports, influences, and inspires his community whilst contesting his most challenging battle yet.