When you think of retired Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight Soa ‘The Hulk’ Palelei, it’s natural to think of a strong body.
But the long-time Cockburn local knows physical strength means nothing if you don’t have the tools to maintain a strong mind.
The three-time Mixed Martial Arts World Champion, Hollywood movie star, Penguin Books author and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt has many strings to his bow.
So what is his real passion? Helping ordinary people build and maintain a strong foundation for good mental health.
As the ambassador of Strong Minds, Strong Mines, the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation legend is humbled by empowering ordinary people.
“I am motivated by seeing everyday people gain the confidence to reject a fear of stigma and ask for help to make their mental health their number one priority,” Palelei said.
“I wasn’t always a UFC champion or an action movie star – we are not the sum of how others see us.
“I came from humble beginnings. I use my own mental health experiences as a result of an abusive upbringing followed by failures, homelessness and the resultant mental health struggles as I learned what worked to make my own health my priority, how to take responsibility for facing my own fears.”
Since 2018, the Strong Minds, Strong Mines program has provided awareness around the physical and mental health problems that can affect people working in remote environments.
Visiting hundreds of mine sites, corporate offices and schools, Palelei and his mental health wellness team deliver talks and workshops that demonstrate the relationship between physical health and mental health.
This provides opportunities for open dialogue on mental health issues in workplaces and communities so they can be addressed openly rather than through isolation or silence.
Palelei’s hard work is paying off – in September Strong Minds, Strong Mines was named Mental Health Foundation Australia’s Mental Health Organisation for 2022.
The team is a finalist in the WA Association for Mental Health’s 2022 WA Mental Health Awards. It is one of four finalists in the Mentally Healthy Workplace Award supported by the Chamber of Minerals and Energy of WA.
In 2021, Palelei was named the WA People’s Choice winner of the Australian Men’s Health Forum Men’s Health Awards for Strong Minds, Strong Mines, also receiving a nomination in the 2022 awards.
“If we know it’s ok to put our mental health first, it builds a solid foundation for our overall health. A vital part of that is doing the things we love, what brings us joy, to stay mentally healthy,” Palelei said.
“And when we do feel challenged, it’s also vital to reach out and talk to someone we trust.
“Knowing its ok to ask for help is part of staying strong when life’s challenges pop up, which they inevitably will. That’s just life.
“The flipside is knowing how to be an authentic support for someone who is having some mental health challenges, how to recognise the triggers and be an ally.
“That can be as simple as listening non-judgmentally and without feeling the need to find a solution or offer advice and knowing when to encourage someone to seek professional support from a mental health expert.
“Maintaining our health is an ongoing investment in ourselves. It never ends, and it shouldn’t because every day offers us a new challenge that means we need to build our own resilience. It’s how we deal with it that matters.”
Palelei and family first made their home in Cockburn more than 20 years ago, choosing the central location to raise three children who all graduated from local schools.
And while his vocation takes him into the remote corners of WA, the well-known character still calls our City home.
We asked ‘The Hulk’ what is his favourite place to visit in Cockburn and why?
“South Lake 6164 is where I grew up and I will always be a 6164-er lol,” he said.
“Regardless of travelling all around the world seeing all these beautiful places I still come back to 6164 #Represent.”
Palelei was inducted into the City of Cockburn's Sports Hall of Fame in June 2021.
Read about our other Quintessentially Cockburn inductees, Marissa Verma here
, Matt Willson here
, Anna Davey here
, and Belinda Cipriano here
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