Topic: Native Affairs

Oz Strongman – Prison Made Me A Better Man

By Oriini Kaipara
  • Australia

Australia's 2016 Strongest Man Rongo Keene has opened about the crime that landed him in jail. He worked hard for years to bulk up and build up his strength. But ultimately, it was his physical power that cost Rongo his freedom.

“I was three days away from stepping on stage with some of the best in the world. Three days away and that was all taken within a second,” says Rongo Keene.

In the early hours of 28 June 2015 in Kalgoorlie, Keene punched his victim, Michael Webster in the head. “The last thing I wanted was for anyone to get hurt or anything like that. That was not my intention at all,” says Keene.

He was eventually charged with grievous bodily harm but pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of assault occasioning bodily harm. His victim was reportedly left with ongoing physical difficulties and psychological trauma. ABC News reported Kalgoorlie District Court Judge Alan Troy said, ‘You were then, and are now, an enormously powerful individual. You did not exercise restraint.’ Keene was sentenced to ten months in prison. “At the time of my sentence, it hit me very hard. It hit my family very hard. It's something we didn't expect nor prepare ourselves for.”

Keene accepts his size and physical power could cause harm but he resents how it was used against him. “The prosecution made me out to be an animal. That I went in there and just started attacking people for no reason,” he says. “Yeah, pretty much because of my size and because of my title as Australia's strongest man they said one punch from me could've killed someone, which they are right. It could have. But for them to use that, I felt, for me was hard for me to take because I know myself as a person I was not who they made me out to be. Not at all.”

As part of Keene’s parole conditions he isn’t to contact his victim. “One of the things I found out was that he was a father too. One of the things that really hurt me was that because of his injuries he couldn't work and provide for his family, which really hit home,” says Keene. “I apologise for everything that has happened to him and his family because of it.”

Keene continued to train inside prison lifting people on his shoulders and playing footy. He left jail fitter and twenty one kilograms lighter. Keene was released early on parole and says he’s a better man for spending time in jail. “In that five months I got time to fix my mind, refocus my life and focus on positive things and what I want to do.”

He’s started training again with a focus on regaining the national amateur title then on to a professional career which includes the world championships.