THE late Lee Henry Garap was born on April 25, 1981, as the second son of Kale and Gamba Konda Garap from Sinasina-Yongumugl, Chimbu.
Garap’s father, Kale, was an agriculturalist and his career took him and his family from Karamui to Wabag, Kimbe, Rabaul and Mt Hagen.
It was during these days that Garap fell in love with martial arts movies, especially those featuring Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme.
From 1995-1996, Kale was the manager of the Kagamuga Pyhrethrium Factory in Mt Hagen and noticed Garap’s keen interest in martial arts and how he would mimic fighting scenes from his collection of martial arts video tapes.
He enrolled Garap at a local taekwondo, kaka fuse and judo class in Mt Hagen and was responsible for transporting him to and from training.
Garap’s drive and commitment began surfacing here.
Kale recalled that he had to organise the company truck to drop him off and pick him up if he could not because Garap would not miss a training session.
He reached out to John Kuiwa and Francis Gul, who back then, were recognised figures in martial arts (kickboxing) and founders of Simbu Kickboxing Federation.
Garap began training under them at the Catholic Parish hall in Kundiawa and ventured into specialising in kickboxing.
In his teens, Garap would round up his friends and go to a spot at Wara Simbu known as “six round” where he practised and perfected his spin and fly kicks on the fine sand.
He started a routine of a chain of kicks and called it his “Wara Simbu Special”.
By 1999, Stanley Nandex had broken through in the world of kickboxing.
Under Kuiwa and Gul, Garap was part of the initial kickboxing associations under Nandex in Chimbu, alongside Kagua-Erave Kickboxing Association.
It was through these associations that Garap competed in his first kickboxing tournaments, travelling the length and breadth of the Highlands Highway and to Lae, Morobe.
His commitment to training and discipline propelled him to success in the ring through these tournaments.
His theme song was “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor; he had conquered the Highlands and had his eye on Port Moresby.
In 2000, Garap relocated to Port Moresby where he joined Team Nandex and quickly rose up the ranks in his own training as well as training others in kickboxing.
This is where he earned the ring name “Flash” through his quick and swift motion spin kicks and punches.
Garap soon started appearing on media platforms as an upcoming kickboxer.
In 2004, he made his first international trip to Australia to fight in the Australian Kickboxing Titles under Nandex.
It was an open-weight event and Garap was pooled against a heavier opponent.
The Chimbu native was not about to let his hard work collapse under a weight difference as he won all his fights in the event.
It was during this international trip that Garap caught the attention of Muay Thai selectors and promoters.
His fight style and demeanour in the ring exposed him as a potential Muay Thai fighter.
Garap made new friends, improved his network and returned home to PNG enlightened about the path ahead of him.
He had achieved his goals in kickboxing and he knew there was more.
The years between 2005 and 2007 were difficult.
Garap had pulled out of Team Nandex and was venturing into the unknown territory of Muay Thai.
Through the trials of living in the city, he took up jobs as a club bouncer and fitness trainer, but never let any obstacle hinder his commitment to improving himself in the ring.
Garap was learning a new art via international correspondence.
He knew there was no podium for him in PNG.
Garap’s goal was to create that podium and put PNG on the map of world Muay Thai fighting.
He trained with Thomas “Spiderman” Kagili, a fellow kickboxer who pulled out with him.
Together, they started researching, training and recruiting.
Through his international correspondence, Garap had emailed Bruce “Preacher” Macfie, a Muay Thai fighter and promoter of his profile.
In 2007, Garap received an invitation via text message from Macfie to fight against him in Australia, which was the breakthrough he needed.
In 2008, the Chimbu man flew to Australia to fight Macfie where he broke his shin and beat the Aussie in the ring.
This was Garap’s first tournament in Muay Thai.
He came out from that ring with a broken leg, battered body and a new drive to become No.1.
On his return to Port Moresby, Garap started training with a Michael Shu, a Thai national who taught him the ropes of proper Muay Thai fighting.
By now, he had a total of 143 fights, 132 wins and one draw over his 17-year career as a fighter.
Garap established his Flash Muay Thai Papua New Guinea in 2018.
He registered his own company and started growing it. Due to his success in the international and domestic arena of Muay Thai, his fan base grew and so did interest in Muay Thai.
Flash Muay Thai PNG became a successful fight school in the country.
More than 40 fight clubs have shown interest to be affiliated to Flash Muay Thai PNG, and the number continues to grow.
Garap envisioned the establishment of children’s and women’s Muay Thai programmes for next year.
His successful amateur and professional career as a martial artist and Muay Thai fighter could only have been successful through his partnerships and bonds throughout his career.
Garap’s partnerships with sponsors were private and public, including life-long ties with Life Gym at Holiday Inn. In 2013, he became the first national champion in the discipline of Muay Thai kickboxing.
Garap captured the imagination of the people of PNG with an impressive and powerful victory in only 45 seconds over his opponent Alfred “The Shark” Samuel to secure the lightweight title in Port Moresby.
He then went on to secure the World Kickboxing Federation welterweight title from Thailand’s Chaiyan Sakkoed in Port Moresby in 2016.
In 2018, Garap went on to successfully defend his title against Thailand’s Uten Chanavan at Sir John Guise Stadium, making him an undisputed two-time world champion.
He had aspirations to defend this title again next year.
Two weeks ago, Garap began his daily routine of going to the gym in the morning at Holiday Inn where he would collapse after suffering a heart attack. He died at the Port Moresby General Hospital later that day.
Garap will be remembered for his discipline, humility, humour, loyalty and commitment towards family and friends.
He was the first Papua New Guinean to venture into Muay Thai, a national sport in Thailand, and brought the highest award of that country to Papua New Guinea.
Garap is survived by his children, Michelle and Tomiry, and wife, Pauline. He leaves behind an open door for young PNG fighters to venture into the world of Muay Thai.