The life of an inspirational “gentle giant” famous among Auckland’s rugby league community has been cut short, leaving behind a grieving family and one of the country’s biggest business success stories.
David Mu, who with wife Sandra brought the kids’ craze of indoor trampolining to New Zealand, died on Friday morning, after suffering a mystery medical incident while driving home from the gym. He was 41.
His shock death has prompted a massive outpouring of support from Aucklanders – a testament to the impact he made in the community through sport, charity and his business Jump, and to a personality described as “unforgettable”.
Speaking to the Herald from the family’s Blockhouse Bay home last night, Sandra Mu remembered her husband as someone who could attract people with a simple smile.
“I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like David. You could meet him for two minutes and have a lasting impression. He was that kind of guy.”
Sandra, a well-known figure in the Kiwi photography industry, happened to meet her future husband while covering the 2003 wedding of rugby star Jonah Lomu and Fiona Taylor at Waiheke Island’s luxury Delamore Lodge.
“I was taking photos for a women’s magazine and he was doing security. His story was that I was taking photos of him all day,” she said with a laugh.
“We kind of just connected. I was looking up a stairwell, he was at the front door looking down, and we just locked eyes.”
The couple were soon running their own businesses; Sandra working as a freelance photographer, and David leading a security firm, allowing him to spend more time with their son Nico, now 14.
“We always had a plan on what we wanted to do, and how we were going to do it,” Sandra said.
In 2012 came the move that would transform their lives. While visiting the US for Sandra’s brother’s wedding, the couple visited a trampoline park and were inspired to start their own back home.
Keen on the concept of taking a Kiwi childhood staple and making it a business venture, dubbed Jump, they scouted locations in Auckland until they found a base in East Tamaki.
“It took us 18 months to try to convince the landlord that trampolines will pay the rent,” Sandra said.
“We really did take a massive gamble. I remember how we sat the kids down and told them that if this doesn’t work, we might be sleeping in a tent.
“We’d put the house and everything on the line. But it just took off and we were overwhelmed with the response.”
Their initial plans of opening another centre in two to five years had to be fast-tracked when competitors began eyeing up their own parks.
“We built three parks in 14 months. It was that hectic.”
New Jumps opened in Hamilton and Albany in 2014, and in Avondale in 2016. Last year, they merged the Hamilton and East Tamaki parks to create a new centre at Takanini.
Today, their business employs nearly 100 people and attracts more than 100,000 young Kiwis each year.
“It’s been a whirlwind. I’ve run the business side of things, while David was the people person who looked after culture and recruiting. He was always so great at motivating people and taking them under his wing.”
Sandra said the couple had made a point of giving back to the community. After the sudden death of a young staff member last year, Jump began raising $60,000 for mental health, through the Gumboot Friday and the I Am Hope Foundation.
“We’ve been set back with the lockdown – but we’re charging on and we are going to reach that goal.”
She said sport was another life-long passion of David’s, and his involvement in local clubs had made him well-known around Auckland. Along with coaching teams that Nico and daughter Tylah-Grace, 10, played in, he made a mark himself in the city’s rugby league scene.
As a front-rower, in 2011, he played in the Fox Memorial Championship-winning Howick Hornets team. On Saturday, a team Mu grew up around, the Marist Saints Gold Under-13s, dedicated their win over Bay Roskill to his memory.
Sandra was still coming to terms with the loss of her husband, whose cause of death was yet to be determined, but said she’s been touched by a deluge of tributes that had been flowing in all weekend.
“He just touched so many lives. He was a massive family man, but he was also about connecting with people, and inspiring them. He could say just one line to you… and it would stay with you forever.”
A large turn-out is expected at a memorial service for Mu, to be held at St Dominic’s church in Blockhouse Bay on Thursday evening.
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