Solomon Haumono's redemption in the ring
AFTER failing to realise his potential on the football field, Solomon Haumono is shooting for redemption in the boxing ring.
The former NRL forward recently notched the 21st knockout victory of his career, stopping Argentine veteran Manuel Alberto Pucheta in the sixth round in Brisbane.
The win lifted him into the WBA's top 10 heavyweights, his progression a far cry from the battles he waged with drugs while trying to carve out a career in rugby league.
Haumono told Australian Regional Media's Josh Spasaro that apart from a world title, the thing he wanted most was to make sure kids avoided the mistakes he had made.
IT TOOK a decade of using hard drugs, a number of suicide attempts and a terrifying moment when he thought he was walking towards hell for Solomon Haumono to finally find his purpose in life.
That horrifying experience was also what saved him from walking into the inferno raging inside his paranoid mind, and ultimately ending his life.
Blessed with a body most athletes would treasure, Haumono - who grew up in inner-city Redfern - could have been anything as a rugby league player.
But going on drug binges and battling severe depression meant he never met the high expectations placed on him.
As a result, he burnt his bridges at the Sea Eagles, Tigers, Bulldogs and Dragons before relocating his family to England for a fresh start with the London Broncos in the UK Super League in 2005.
After winning the players' player award there, Haumono celebrated his achievement at a four-storey nightclub in London.
And he did it with a deadly cocktail of party drugs.
After years of drug abuse, the depression, anxiety and paranoia came to a head that night.
Descending each one of the four floors, he imagined he was walking closer and closer to hell.
It was such a horrific experience, Haumono made a vow to never touch drugs again.
"There's a changing point in most people's lives," Haumono said.
"That was mine.
"And I'm thankful I'm able to be on the other side and to speak about the positive stuff to help others."
That night in London led Haumono to the light that saved him.
He found God, himself and boxing.
Eleven years on, the deeply religious Haumono is striving for a new dream - to be a heavyweight champion in the ring.
He also regularly mentors young people in Sydney's inner-city suburb of Redfern with his wife Margaret - a cousin of long-time friend and former boxing world champion Anthony Mundine. Together they are working to stop young kids from travelling down the same dangerous path he once took.
The 40-year-old wants to help as many kids as possible because he will never forget living on the edge as a rugby league player when he continually made the wrong decisions.
He'd go on drug binges in between training sessions and in one extreme case, when he was at the Dragons in 2000, missed the entire pre-season to feed his deadly habit.
He made his first-grade debut just a year before Queensland legend Darren Lockyer, but instead of looking back at an equally illustrious career, has mostly regrets.
"Do you know what? I think I could speak up for so many people who have regrets," he said. "I see Darren Lockyer who was in the same rookie class as me, and he's a legend.
"With the opportunity I had, of course I could have done a lot more."
But Haumono believes those painful memories will always inspire him to help others.
"I think the key is with the experiences that I had, I can help the younger guys," he said. "I love helping others, especially with young guys who were in the same position as me coming up."
Another rugby league star who has had his share of problems but has now turned his life and career around is Haumono's nephew Blake Ferguson.
The damaging Roosters back was chosen to make his debut for Australia in the Anzac Test against New Zealand, three years after he and fellow reformed bad boy Josh Dugan went on a drinking session the night before they were due to join the New South Wales Origin camp.
The 26-year-old was later found guilty of an indecent assault charge arising from that night out, which led to the NRL refusing to register his contract with the Sydney Roosters until last season.
"He (Ferguson) has become a beautiful father, a beautiful partner and now everything's showing on the field," Haumono said.
"We're so proud of him.
"Youth has a lot to do with everyone's walk.
"Some guys mature quicker.
"It's fair to say everyone has a walk, and he's found himself.
"He's made his own path, and considering the adversity that he's had to face - the whole family is so rapt.
"That's something you've got to be grateful for, because some guys don't come out of that."
It took a walk to the gates of hell for Solomon Haumono to come out from the life-threatening path he was treading. and made him realise he could inspire others and save his own life in the meantime.
"Everything happens for a reason," he said.