Afuhia’IMasilamea “Rocky” Misiu Taumoepeau

Afuhia’IMasilamea “Rocky” Misiu Taumoepeau was born in Pangai, in the Ha’apai Group of the Kingdom of Tonga, in the South Pacific.  The Taumoepeau family played an important role in the history of Tonga.  One of his ancestors was a legendary warrior who later became the first native teacher at Tonga’s Atele College.

Rocky’s father, Teritavy Taumoepeau, was absent when he was growing up, and his mother, Alisi Misiu, struggled to provide for her children.  Despite hardships, Rocky has pleasant memories of playing on the beach, and fishing.  He recalls that when he was a child, one of his uncles went on a whale hunt, and returned to shore with a 176-foot “monster,” which fed his island for several months.

After graduating from a high school run by the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints (Mormons), Rocky spent two years as a missionary and traveled around Tonga.  He immigrated to the United States in 1974, when he was 24 years old, but his arrival was surrounded by personal tragedy.  Rocky’s mother died in an airplane crash a few days before his departure, and four days after his arrival in the San Francisco area, he learned that his father, a California resident, was killed during a burglary at a relative’s home.

Devastated by the loss of his parents, Rocky was also forced to adapt to a new culture.  He had never driven a car or operated a television set.  He spoke English only as a second language, and he had no experience with relationships.  As he explains, he learned to drive a car during one harrowing night in San Francisco.

After a short time, Rocky moved from San Francisco to Salt Lake City, Utah, where he took his first job as a dishwasher.  He took a second job as a diamond setter for a large jewelry store, but he soon became restless.   A talented musician, Rocky joined a band that featured several relatives, including an uncle from Fiji.  After touring hotels and malls around the country, Rocky joined another band, “the South Pacific Review.”

During what was supposed to be a two-week engagement at Boardman’s Southern Park Mall, Rocky met the woman who became his first wife, and the couple later had a daughter.  While the marriage ended in divorce, Rocky wanted to see his daughter grow up and struggled to provide economic support.  He traveled regularly between Florida and Ohio, sometimes working construction jobs but also gaining experience as a fitness trainer and professional bodybuilder.

After an encounter with immigration officials, who claimed his green card was no longer valid, Rocky applied for U.S. citizenship.  As he explains, an official in Cleveland suggested that he adopt his nickname, “Rocky,” as his legal name, which would help people to remember him if he ever decided to open a business.

During a long stay in Florida, Rocky received professional training as a fitness trainer, and when he returned to the Youngstown-Warren area, he became popular among customers at the Scandinavian Health Spa and Gold’s Gym.  Many local business leaders and professionals hired Rocky as a personal trainer, which was very unusual at the time.  In 1989, he established his own business, “Rocky’s Personalized Training and Wellness Center,” which operates in Boardman.

Rocky later married a woman from Tonga, and the couple had a son, Tim, who became a standout athlete at Boardman High School and, more recently, at Youngstown State University.  Tim Taumoepeau is known locally for his expertise in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ), a martial art derived from Japanese Jujitsu.

Over the years, Rocky established himself as a world-class professional trainer.  Athletes he trained include Dan Herron, Mario Manningham, Tim Manoa, Kelly Pavlik, and Mike Zordich.   In 2008, he launched the “Steel Valley Classic,” a natural bodybuilding and figure/fitness championship that draws participants from the northeastern United States.  A devoted Mormon, Rocky says his religious faith helped him to overcome great challenges. “All these things happening in my life, it’s in God’s hands,” he says.  “I’m nothing.  He helped me, took me up from my people, brought me here for a purpose.”

Rocky is part of a small local Polynesian community, which includes two families from Samoa.  He says that he is the only native of Tonga to ever reside in the Youngstown-Warren area.

Click here, to read the full transcript of Rocky’s interview.

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