I was nine or 10 when I realised things were different at home compared to others. I noticed the drug addiction that Dad was stuck in. And I learned we weren’t as well off as some other people. The old car, my dad being worried or upset when bills came, moving multiple times a year to new government housing. Sometimes, he’d be so down that he couldn’t leave the bedroom for a couple of days. And he’d often let us know we didn’t have money for dinner. So we’d have two minute noodles or toast. I longed to see my Dad be OK. I would pray for him to be happy. It was hard because I loved him so much, and it was so important for me to see him in good spirits.
One of my favourite memories was seeing the Auckland Blues play at Eden Park. It was a day out with my Dad. We shared the excitement and atmosphere, and from then on rugby always had a meaningful connection between my Dad and I. I dreamed of being a ball boy for the Blues long before I dreamed of playing for them. When I got older, I wanted to do something to empower myself to live a better way of life than I had known. So I set my mind on being a pro rugby player. I genuinely believed that if I ever got a rugby contract my life would be complete and everything would unfold from there. So I did all I could to achieve this. I got my first ever contract at the age of 19 for Auckland. But it became one of the most confusing times of my life.
I was a kid from Mt Roskill who had hardly made the rep teams, didn’t finish school and got spotted by chance by Pat Lam while playing for Grammar Carlton. My dream had come true. I was playing for the team I loved, my family and friends were proud! But the feeling of content that I believed I would feel wasn’t there. I was excited and proud but I felt confused. Life was meant to feel better now. I’m meant to feel good about myself, right?
This confusion carried on and it became a daily struggle to find a feeling of being OK. The more I struggled the worse I got. I became more insecure and constantly felt like I wasn’t good enough. There were many times out on the field that I had a running commentary in my own mind of how shit I was and that I did not belong.
It ate away at me. And I didn’t understand because in my plan, and in others eyes, I was doing so well. I went on to achieve cool things in the coming years from winning the NPC that season, an Under-20 World Cup gold medal, and representing my beloved Blues. But the more I achieved the more suffering I felt. I thought that the sense of belonging or inner peace I had longed for my whole life would be found in achieving my dreams. But I just seemed to be getting further away from it. And then, behind the scenes of all this, my Dad was dying from cancer.
I was 17 when he was diagnosed but it wasn’t until I was 20 that it all went downhill for him rapidly. He didn’t have much time to live and he hated the hospital. He wanted to be at home with us and his best mate Louis the Doberman. I used my money from rugby to pay for a nurse to be with Dad while I was at training and to hire all the medical equipment like hospital beds. I would come home and care for my Dad - he needed help with every single thing as his body had shut down, so I would bathe him, change him, feed him. It was one of the hardest experiences of my life to do this for someone who had always been so physically strong, and who would do anything to be there for us kids. He hated that the tables were turned, and it was challenging for him to accept. He would always apologise that I had to look after him, which made it even harder. I just wanted him to know that it wasn’t a problem. Not one bit. And I wouldn’t have changed any of it.
When Dad died, I felt the most alone. I never wanted to seem weak, so I put on a brave face. None of the staff and no one in my team knew the difficulties of this time. But to cope with the struggles I was facing mentally, and also the emotions of losing my Dad, I started to drink. Alcohol was my escape from the down feelings. But this cycle had a horrible effect on my life. I would binge-drink beers, vodka, bourbon, get into trouble, fight most weekends, upset people I cared about. I recall the feeling of how much of a loser I felt. A failure and a letdown. I would wake up hung over, knowing I had got into another big punch up on a night out. And I’d try deny these feelings and tell myself it was normal to get in fights, or blame it on someone else. But I was the common denominator too many times.
All this went on for a good 12 months. My drive and passion for rugby disappeared. My performance in both training and games dwindled. Pat Lam, who had given me my chance out of nowhere, was the one who rightfully had to let me go by ending my Blues contract early for lack of performance. This was rock bottom. I felt anxious. I felt like a failure. I felt like I had let my family down and ruined any chance of making something decent of my life. I would think of my Dad and how ashamed he would be, because he was always so proud of me before. I felt I had no way forward.
My brother was the one to tell me I was being stupid and needed to get my life together. I would keep telling him to leave me alone. But one morning I woke up hung over. I had fought the night before. And I could no longer deny there was a problem. I went to him and said, I need help. My brother organised for me to see a counsellor, and I can’t speak highly enough for what this did for me.
I learned I was tying up my whole identity and well-being in my rugby dream, which only weighed me down. I learned I was good enough and didn’t need to be a rugby star to feel OK within my own skin. I learned I had difficulties from my childhood from seeing what my Dad had gone through. Most of all I learned that it’s a human trait to believe we will be OK when "X" outcome happens. But this is a mirage that keeps us chasing our tails and overlooking that only here and now can we find happiness and peace within ourselves, never within an outcome or an achievement or a material thing.
As men, we tend to just put on a brave face and deny our feelings. But that came back to bite me because all the suppressed emotions led to unhealthy coping mechanisms. My life got on track once I accepted I needed help and started speaking to people who helped me see more clearly. After that, a lot of pressure fell away. It allowed me to be myself. Be more comfortable. This new freedom allowed me to approach life with more ease. I managed to get back to playing rugby for a living. I never achieved what I set out to do and I always missed my beloved Auckland Blues but I was so thankful for what I learned through that journey. To be honest, I am still learning. But I understand life more clearly every single day.
I have many ups and downs but I think this is an inevitable part of life we need to learn to embrace. I have the most beautiful and supportive wife Chelsea who I met while playing rugby in Scotland. Having her by my side is my biggest blessing. I have used some of the struggles I faced in rugby and life to create a business called Puresport, which advocates for a lifestyle that revolves around putting our well-being first with natural supplements, exercise and a supportive community.
Most of all, I am thankful for the journey and I am driven to let others know that from my experience the thing we are all really longing for is the acceptance of ourselves exactly as we are. That is a massive part of the MoveMINT and why it is one I’m hugely proud to be a part of, along with wearing the comfiest undies ever!