A BRIEF (WELL, OK, IT'S NOT THAT BRIEF)
SUMMARY OF MY STRENGTH & FITNESS JOURNEY
Where to Start, I have been an athlete my entire adult life, playing a couple of sports at a decent level, of which have been lifelong passions. This journey will take you from 1999 to present day.
It all started off with me playing soccer at a semi pro level for 3 seasons, well it did not start out that way. I only started getting an envelope with money in it in my second season. I remember my first practice session; it was a night mare really. Everyone was so much faster and fitter than me, usually this would be enough to make anyone want to quit, but for me it was the opposite.
I believed that if they were that fast or fit, I could be to, so my journey into self-discipline and an undeniable urge to be better than I was when I started. I would run every day, interval sprints and endurance running. The first 3 weeks of these extra sessions left my knees red and swollen. I would sit eating dinner with icepacks on my knees. I remember the day it changed at soccer training, still to this day it stays with me. The realisation that my work was paying off and the wake-up call my team mates had that I was going to be a threat.
Every preseason, for 6 weeks, we would do 200m sprints, just before a continuous 12 minute run. On these sprints someone would either catch up to me and overtake or would leave me for dust. On This evening one of the fastest guys in the team stood next to me, we pulled away at the same time, I refused to get left behind, well, the short version is, I won that foot race! I went on to be a regular starter for the team from struggling in the beginning to being one of the faster, fitter players on the side.
But …. That came to an end when a friend of mine started Muay Thai, he fell in love and would not stop talking about it, so much so that I decided to give it a try.
I remember this day vividly, playing soccer and becoming a regular in the team and winning an award or 2 gave me the confidence that I could physically keep up, if not for that I may never have had the courage to walk into that gym.
With my running shoes on, I walked straight into the Muay Thai gym and stood on matts where I waited for the instructor to notice me. He did, walked over to me very slowly almost sizing me up, when he got to me, he asked what he could do for me? I said I would like to learn how to fight. His response was “that’s great I can definitely teach you how to fight, step one, get off my mats with the shoes and don't ever stand on them again unless your shoes are off and always 'Wai' - traditional Thai greeting to show respect - before entering and call me Kru.“
After the first session I was hooked! I quickly found that I had a natural affinity to this art. I trained 5-6 days a week becoming obsessed and emerged myself in the art. I would train relentlessly, watch fights, learn about everything. My body would take a beating in training, it was physically and mentally demanding. The emotional rollercoaster of training, sparring, fighting is one that served me well in life and my rugby career.
I quickly rose in the ranks and started fighting, my fight card if you can find it, has zero losses recorded on it and I also had a couple of gym exhibitions in catch weight classes.
I started to teach, and the more I taught the more I learned. Now this journey is not over as Muay Thai will always be part of me, I love to teach, I love the rhythm, I love it all.
One of the biggest honours I had was when I started to teach in the UK. I needed to make sure my Muay Thai lineage was traceable and intact. I called my Kru and spoke to him about it and, as his way, he responded by saying he supports me but I needed to prove myself again which is his way of saying you need to fight.
I flew back to my gym in South Africa in 2017, I went through 2 weeks of hard training, learning to teach in Thai (traditional names for techniques), I needed to judge fights and referee whilst there. And, of course, I needed to fight. I had not been in the ring now for about 11 years and my opponent was the then Sub-Saharan Muay Thai champion. No easy feat. In usual fashion I only found out who my opponent was 5 minutes before the fight, whereas my opponent had been preparing for me for the last few weeks. The training was brutal, the fight was brutal but, in the end, I earned the right and honour to be called Kru.
Then came rugby and rugby league, this is where may life really started to change and all the experience from soccer and Muay Thai proved invaluable.
I had a lot of friends that played rugby and always said I would be good at it. Muay Thai made me less scared of contact and confrontation, also, my body was so well conditioned I could take the hits from rugby.
So, I decided to give it a go, I remember the first 3 weeks of training before we had to play trials. I was at Harlequins and there must have been about 150 players and I was the ONLY one who had never played rugby a day in his life. It was a steep learning curve for me, but I loved it. The night of the trial games came along and I had no idea of what to expect. The coaches split all the players up, obviously I was one of the last to get put into a team, and I was also one of the first to play - none of which is good. They had one less jersey for the 6 teams that were playing, one jersey was missing and that happened to be the jersey I was supposed to wear. One of the players shouts across the changing room and said he had a jersey for me, it was a bright red jersey, the collar was permanently up due to all the wear and washing it would have had to endure. I stood out like a sore thumb. Anyway, as I was English/Portuguese, not your typical rugby player, and NOW I had a bright red jersey, I was about to take the field to play for a game I had never played.
I knew I was fast, I knew no one could hurt me, I also knew I had no idea what to do! In the first 10 minute I am trying to figure out what’s going on, everything was happening really fast, everyone trying to shine so they make a team. Then there was a moment in our own 22, there was a ruck right in front of me about 3 metres from the out-line. My friend was at the base about to pick the ball up, instinct kicked in, I called for the ball, and shot past the ruck, I was gone - no one was catching me, the entire grand stand stood up.... and this is where things go wrong. I thought I could only score under the posts, if I had held my line no one would touch me, but I changed direction and headed towards the posts. The fullback smashed me just before the try line. Everyone laughed, I was confused, but also determined.
Eventually, I was selected for the third side, for 2 reasons only. The first; I was fast (thanks to soccer) and the second; I had no fear (thanks to Muay Thai). I was told that a coach could not coach speed or courage, but everything else I needed could be coached.
My first game for the club I was terrible, but by my third game I got man of the match. I trained relentlessly and immersed myself in the sport - sound familiar?
After my first season of Rugby Union, I got asked to try out for Rugby League, apparently League would suit me better.
So, I did and it did.
I took my body from being a Muay Thai fighter at 77kg and worked my way up to 90kg, and became really good at Rugby League. In 2006, I got called up to the South African side that was touring Italy that year. I got to play a test match and a 9's tournament. My first taste of International Rugby League - playing teams from Australia, Italy, England and France. Rugby League gave me so much - more on that later.
After that tour I become the incumbent wing for my Club and for South Africa for the next 3-4 years, but I wanted more “action”. I wanted to be in the thick of it. I had many conversations with my coach about moving from the wing to lock. I felt I could add more value there, at first, I thought my speed would be the biggest asset but that quickly changed. My coach was not on board at all. I was still only about 93kg and he felt I was not big enough. I trained consistently, hit the gym and sprints. Coach was still not having it, because now I was bigger than my opposing wings and fast, so I was only making myself a more attractive winger.
My chance would come however when 3 of our forwards became injured during a game and we had none left. I saw my chance and moved to lock froward. I immediately made an impact on defence, which I did not think would be a strength at first, but my speed and fitness allowed me to complete more tackles. It was 12 minutes of me trying to prove a point to the coaches. After the game, they agreed I did well, but the next game I was back at wing. I was dejected but I knew I could still play at lock. As luck would have it, I got another chance to prove myself - this time in the finals. We had an injury and we needed to make some changes, we were behind at that point and I kept noticing that the standoff and centre would jam in on defence. I had a lot of time on the wing to see this. We had a scrum in our 20, I jogged over to the scrum and told the lock to stand at left centre, the coach was not happy, but I was a senior in the squad by now, so the players agreed.
As the scrum was fed, I picked the ball up and pulled away, the stand-off and centre jammed in as I saw, I passed the ball out to the rough centre, he broke the line, pulled the winger in, passed to our wing and, before the wing got tackled by the fullback, he passed the ball back to me, I was trailing the entire play, I got the ball and ran in a 40m try off the scrum.
As I was settling in my new role, tragedy struck. I got very sick, and we could not find the cause of it. I lost 13kg of body weight in 10 days, I could not walk 10m without taking a rest, my resting heart rate was 120bpm.
Doctors were doing so many tests on me, first they thought it was my heart. Then they thought it was cancer. By the time we finally figured it out, I was emotionally spent and 15kg lighter. I went from 100kg to 84kg within 3 weeks.
I was diagnosed with Graves' Disease in 2009. A form of hyperthyroidism, that affects everything from my heart rate, hormone levels, protein synthesis and even sleep, amongst others.
I was told that I may never be able to play rugby league again, at least at the level I was playing at.
I'd had this before with injuries I had received, especially my shoulder dislocations, but I came back from those. But this was different. I was not about to just give up. It was tough in the beginning as all my muscles had started to atrophy. At first, I could not even get off the couch because I had become so weak, my wife pushed to just go to the gym, even to just sit there.
I had to train within certain heart rate levels to start. It took 3 months to get strong enough to be able to start getting Rugby ready and then another 3 months of hard training before I was strong enough to play. When I got back to club, the management did a great job of managing my game time etc.
After being told in 2009 that I may never play rugby league again, I went on to have the best seasons of my life. I got bigger and stronger than I was before, I got faster and more conditioned. I cemented my spot at the club and for South Africa at lock forward - so much so that I got recalled to the South African side in 2019 to play in Australia, making me not only the most capped but one of the longest serving South African players.
I went on to win our club's Man of Steel Award, I received many honours and records, to this day I am still the most capped South African rugby league player.
Rugby League changed my life, I got to see the World playing rugby in so many different countries, against many teams and players. I have played at every level and every form of rugby and rugby league. I have played Union 15’s, 7’s and 10’s and Rugby league 13’s and 9’s.
I have suffered many injuries and setbacks in my career, but I always managed to come back from it fitter and stronger, both mentally and physically. It is often said, "the comeback is always bigger than the setback".
I know what it's like to be fast, strong, conditioned and confident but I also know what it feels like to be weak, slow and lose all confidence. I have been on both spectrums and I know how it feels to go from one to the other, and I know what it takes to get back again - so I know how to get the very best out of YOU, because I really do understand the journey.
• ACCP Football, 2002-2003 (2 seasons) - Semi-Pro
• Tiger Dragon Muay Thai, 2003-2005
• SA’s, 2004
• Rugby league 2005 – 2019
• Club games – 250
• Provincial games – 65
• International games – 29
• Selected for every Rhino team since 2006-2013, again 2019
• Attended coaching courses with the British Army as well as the Brisbane Broncos
• Attained Level One Rugby League Coaching Certificate with the British Army
• Played 232 first class Rugby League games
• The most capped Rhino player in history
• One of the only players with 100+ first class games in the South African Conference.
I have captained 2 international tours. I have represented my Country and provinces - The Northern Bulls and the Warthogs - as well as clubs: Tuks (University of Pretoria) and the Pretoria East Rabbitohs; captaining both sides and leading Tuks to 5 undefeated years. I captained the Rabitohs to their first undefeated season. I have played all over the World , as a Union player and a Rugby League player, I have fought across the World in Muay Thai, remaining undefeated in South Africa, and I have been involved in strength and fitness coaching for over a decade. These experiences have been invaluable to me as a player, a fighter, a coach and as a person...
And it will be invaluable to you too at the Barbell Asylum... This, I Guarantee.
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