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‘I was told I would never play sports again’: Chris Brine challenged odds to reach world bodybuilding champs

'I was told I would never play sports again': Chris Brine challenged odds to reach world bodybuilding champs
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Without breaking a sweat, Chris Brine stands like a bronzed Zeus on the podium for World Fitness Federation, as he flexes the full might of his chiselled body.

It is an unlikely sight for the teen who was told he would never walk again.

More so than any teenager, the New Plymouth man’s worst nightmare was being confined to a hospital bed.

”At school, I said yes to every sport – cricket, soccer, rugby, tennis, indoor sports too, you name it. For me, at that age, everything revolved around sport. Then, I was told I would never play sports again.”

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At first, the doctors had said it was growing pains. Soon, Brine’s acute pain and chronic fatigue left him entirely bedridden – as the result of an incredibly rare side effect of his acne medication, Brine had fallen ill with lupus.

“They didn’t even list it as a side effect, you have a better chance of winning lotto. It was life-changing. Soon, I couldn’t even walk or hold my hands up.”

Brine’s case was so extreme he was admitted to the arthritis ward of the hospital – the youngest patient by half a century.

Chris Brine, who lives in New Plymouth - Brine recently recovered from a decade-long battle with Lupus and now competes in international bodybuilding tournaments.

VANESSA LAURIE/Stuff

Chris Brine, who lives in New Plymouth – Brine recently recovered from a decade-long battle with Lupus and now competes in international bodybuilding tournaments.

Lupus, a chronic autoimmune disorder that can affect virtually every organ in the body, requires life-long management in most cases.

“I couldn’t even have sheets on my hands because of the pain.”

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Brine spent 18 months on the ward enduring this waking nightmare.

Emerging from his hospital stay now aged 16, he was withdrawn and depressed – in a low mood from the social isolation, and disheartened by the additional 50kg he had gained. Brine had gone from being in the U55kg rugby team to being 120kg in 18 months.

Chris Brine and his wife Amber Brine are both champion bodybuilders.

Chris Brine/Supplied

Chris Brine and his wife Amber Brine are both champion bodybuilders.

Leaving hospital in a wheelchair, the time in confinement and his quiet suffering galvanized a new approach to health. Brine resolved to change his life – he would join the NZ Army.

“The army was the hardest thing imaginable, and something I was passionate about anyway,” Brine said.

After a year of walking, running, and training, Brine lost all of his hospital weight – and gained a new sense of self.

“I figured a lot of it out myself. Knowing what I know now, there were easier ways than starving myself.”

Brine left after six years in the infantry, and now works coaching and training people improving their health.

Brine and his wife will represent New Zealand at the WFF world championships in Indonesia.

VANESSA LAURIE/Stuff

Brine and his wife will represent New Zealand at the WFF world championships in Indonesia.

His choices suggest that the lupus was a catalyst for radical change – after having no control over his body and its functions, he would exercise total control, pushing it to the limits of human endeavor.

On this track, Brine puts his now-wife Amber the old-school way – through a dating website – and they arranged for their first date (on the gym floor, of course).

“I was terrible at approaching women, I didn’t do it and had no confidence in myself. Our first date we arranged a training session – that was our first official date. We had very similar interests and goals.”

She expressed a long-held interest in starting bodybuilding, and Brine promised to commit to it with her.

“I said if you do it, I’ll do it. From there, we were able to get coaches on board – and we fell in love with it.”

Brine’s multiple challenges and complete devotion to his training signal a unique level of commitment – ​​but, he insists, “everyone can do it”.

“I’m not special, but I’ve achieved things in my life I never thought I would achieve, simply by being consistent.”

Brine balances over 20+ week training with two children and his full-time coaching schedule.

VANESSA LAURIE/Stuff

Brine balances over 20+ week training with two children and his full-time coaching schedule.

The lead-up to Brine’s bodybuilding tournaments is measured in years, not days or weeks.

“It’s a 24/7 commitment, 365 days of a year – it becomes your everything.”

Bodybuilding demands a total engagement of body and mind – the competitions add another level of demand over this.

As he approaches major competitions, like the world championships that are three weeks away, Brine’s training schedule reaches a peak – around 12 hours of cardio a week, and nine hours of weight training. Competing at an international show might end up running more than $12,000. Brine will be representing New Zealand

This competition version of Brine is as distant from his 15-year-old self as can be.

The New Plymouth local said that, since his illness, bodybuilding has become “everything”.

VANESSA LAURIE/Stuff

The New Plymouth local said that, since his illness, bodybuilding has become “everything”.

He co-ordinates his days around training, clients, and family – a life full of the things that once seemed out of reach – and the lupus, now “is completely gone”.

“Life is unpredictable. Bodybuilding taught me with structure you need to have support around you.”

By sharing his story, Brine hopes that other sufferers of chronic illness are able to feel some hope, even at the lowest points of their experience.

”The gym is more for people to have functionality in their lives long term, to have better quality of life.”

Brine will compete at the world championships in November, the sum of his professional life so far. With grace, Brine gives thanks to his family for helping them all along the way.

“Our family may not understand it – and may think we’re a bit silly – but they know it’s important.”

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