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Paralysed kickboxer Ra Redden is fighting back thanks to the love of his life

Woman's Day logo Woman's Day 13/03/2018 Cloe Willetts

Ra Redden was paralysed in a freak kickboxing accident last year. But he is fighting on thanks to the love of his life.: Paralysed kickboxer Ra Redden is fighting back thanks to the love of his life © Provided by Bauer Media Pty Ltd Paralysed kickboxer Ra Redden is fighting back thanks to the love of his life As he stepped into the bright arena lights in Porirua, Muay Thai kick-boxer Ra "Razor" Redden held his five-year-old son Ryder's hand and walked towards the ring.

After months of intensive training, it was the final fight of the New Zealand champion kickboxer's career before he retired to focus on his son and the love of his life Katie Powell.

From the sidelines, Katie cheered loudly for her man, while Ryder darted in and out of the backstage shadows to play.

Three rounds in, the room suddenly fell silent as paramedics raced to the stage, where Ra was lying stiff with pain soaring down his neck.

In slow motion, Katie heard her name called and rushed to Ra's side. As she grabbed his hand to comfort him, he told her, "I can't move. I can't feel my body."

a person posing for the camera © Provided by Bauer Media Pty Ltd It was back in January 2016 that Titahi Bay builder Ra, 26, and account manager Katie, 29, of Kapiti, caught each other's eye when they met through friends.

"He added me on Facebook and liked a post of my cat being vacuumed, so I took it as my chance to message him," laughs Katie, speaking exclusively with Woman's Day from Christchurch's Burwood Hospital.

"I asked him, 'So you like cats being vacuumed, do you?' and found we had the same quirky sense of humour because he continued with the banter."

Two weeks later, the pair met at a beachfront restaurant in Lyall Bay, Wellington, and it was clear there was more than just a spark.

"We were laughing so much," Katie grins. "Despite everyone telling me Ra was shy, it was just easy and I loved being in his presence. I also thought he was pretty good-looking!"

Ra knocked out Nick Allen on the Gold Coast in 2013. © Provided by Bauer Media Pty Ltd Ra knocked out Nick Allen on the Gold Coast in 2013. Ra, who sits beside Katie in a hospital unit as she strokes his arm, tells how he fell for her laid-back nature and ability to hold a fun conversation. 

He also liked that she showed interest in his martial art, a passion that stemmed from having a boxing champion for a father and three-time world kickboxing champ brother, Rex Redden Junior, 39.

Ra, who fought in his first competition at 12, also holds multiple titles, including two World Muay Thai NZ Champion wins.

As he discusses combat sports being in his blood, his eyes light up, especially when Ryder's name enters the conversation.

"Ryder calls his dad his champion and thinks he's the man," tells Katie. Her close bond with Ra's son, who mainly lives with his mum in Johnsonville, was one reason the couple started talking marriage last year.

Another factor, Ra says, was Katie's encouragement leading up to his fight last September, when he competed in Sky TV's King in the Ring.

a group of people posing for the camera: Ra (right) and his opponent Gene at the weigh-in before the fight went horribly wrong. © Provided by Bauer Media Pty Ltd Ra (right) and his opponent Gene at the weigh-in before the fight went horribly wrong. "Katie was so supportive," he remembers. 

"She even got up early on weekends to look after Ryder while I trained. I didn't have much time to hang out with her because I was coming home late, but she handled it really well."

Grinning, he adds, "She's a good chick. I realised that's what I wanted in a wife."

Having window-shopped for engagement rings, throwing subtle hints at one another, the loved-up pair imagined how it would be to one day walk down the aisle as husband and wife.

On December 16 last year, Katie was back in Ra's corner when he competed for the lightweight title at Porirua's Honour 15 Muay Thai event. Katie looked forward to hugging him post-fight, then celebrating the end of his kickboxing career. Afterwards, the focus could shift to buying their first home and, to Katie's excitement, having children together.

But near the end of the match, a reverse twist on Ra's opponent Gene "Supreme" Elbourne went horribly wrong and the two fell heavily, with Ra at the bottom of the heap. He landed with his head angled sideways and, in that moment, was paralysed from the shoulders down.

a person sitting in a room: As Ra battled his devastating injury, Katie visited the hospital twice a day. © Provided by Bauer Media Pty Ltd As Ra battled his devastating injury, Katie visited the hospital twice a day. While he doesn't remember anything after falling, Katie recalls the room closing in and numbness overtaking her as she raced to his side.

After she kissed him and promised he'd make it through, Ra was carefully placed on a stretcher and driven away to Wellington Hospital.

There, he had the first of three surgeries to realign his C4 vertebrae, the midsection of his spine, which was fractured and dislocated.

The following day, Ra was transferred to Christchurch's Intensive Care Unit, where he remained in an induced coma for 10 days – the longest wait of Katie's life.

In an open letter that touched the hearts of thousands of people on Facebook after the accident, Katie told Ra, "It's been one week, my darling. Even though I'm here next to you, I miss you so much. I miss your voice. I miss your smile. I miss our chats. I miss every little thing about you. No matter what journey we're about to embark on, just know that I've got you. Always."

a man and a woman smiling for the camera © Provided by Bauer Media Pty Ltd With her job and the couple's new flat on hold in Wellington, Katie quietly decorated Ra's hospital walls with photos of loved ones, visiting him every morning and night, including Christmas Day.

She kept family and friends up to date with his progress through a Givealittle page that raised over $50,000 for his recovery. Among the donations was an All Blacks jersey gifted by halfback TJ Perenara.

Finally, on December 27, after operations to stabilise his neck with metal screws and remove a breathing tub, Ra opened his eyes.

"When he woke, we just looked at each other, smiled and got teary. Then he whispered hi," she tells.

The next few days were spent quietly talking, laughing and welcoming visitors, and despite the circumstances, Ra remained calm and positive.

Katie says, "The only time he's had tears is when he's told me how appreciative he is to have us."

a man sitting on a motorcycle © Provided by Bauer Media Pty Ltd On New Year's Eve, Ra expressed his love in the most romantic way, with a proposal for his sweetheart. 

"He got the nurses to wheel him down in his bed to the Avon River and started telling me all the mushy stuff – how he loves me and I mean the world to him," says Katie.

Then he told Katie to reach for the present between his legs. "I thought he was being cheeky, but he was like, 'No, there's something under the blanket for you.'

"I pulled out a box, which I thought was a necklace, until I found a smaller box inside with a ring. He'd arranged for his family to pick up a ring and hide it under his blanket."

In a tiny whisper, he asked, "Will you marry me?"

Beaming, Katie adds, "It looked like nothing else in the world mattered to him but that moment. He was so happy."

a man and a woman sitting at a table using a laptop: Ra's proposal by the Avon River. © Provided by Bauer Media Pty Ltd Ra's proposal by the Avon River. Laughing and crying, Katie said yes, while across the road, a group of nurses stood on the hospital balcony waving and cheering.

She tells, "The day before Ra proposed, I'd said to my sister that I wasn't fazed or scared by how much our lives could change, as long as I was with him. There was no question."

Almost two weeks after his proposal, Ra was relocated to Christchurch's Burwood Spinal Rehab Centre, where he'll spend the next six months undergoing an intensive rehabilitation programme.

a woman sitting on a bench posing for the camera © Provided by Bauer Media Pty Ltd "Ra has good movement in his head, neck and shoulders," smiles Katie, reclining the seat of his wheelchair so her man is comfortable.

"His right arm has partial movement, so his left arm has become dominant, and is developing more control and strength. I'm so proud of him."

The couple, who agree the accident hasn't put them off having children, will buy and kit out a house for a wheelchair when Ra is ready to go home.

Smiling cheekily, Ra jokes that Katie, his rock, is pretty much superhuman.

He concludes, "If anything, this has only made our connection stronger. She's in this with me."

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