It is not just women who struggle to juggle various life commitments. Too often we overlook the demands placed on men. As father of three and Wintec centre director for Sport Science and Human Performance, Greg Smith shares some honest insights into the demands of life.
I was having a conversation with a younger work colleague a few weeks ago, determining what age we would want to be again, if we could choose. We were trying to figure out what point in our sporting careers we would want to be transported back to.
Having once been athletes we decided that 25 was the magic age. Young enough to be injury-free, old enough to have banked 10 years of training and experience, and smart enough to understand how the body best responded to the demands of high level sport. Sadly I will be turning 42 this year. 25 was some time ago.
Having grown up as a busy kid; activity, exercise and sport were norms in my life. Early morning swimming training, cold frosty rugby fields, foggy netball courts and jumping on the trampoline until it was dark are just some of my vivid memories of growing up. Life was a big game and all the other stuff like school, family commitments and even eating fitted around this.
I was fortunate that as I grew from a teenager into a young adult, I was able to continue my sporting pursuits. I was lucky that I arrived on the first-class rugby scene just as the sport turned professional. The opportunity was provided to continue playing while getting paid to do so. Life was pretty good.
The measures of success were calculated in kilogrammes, skinfolds, speed, endurance, tackles made and lineout throwing, to name only a few. I was a young man without children travelling to exciting new places, getting paid to play the sport I loved and focused totally on my body’s health and performance.
However, as the rugby administration told us continually throughout our careers, it all came to an end. At age 30 it was determined that I had sustained too many concussions and that any further damage to my brain may be permanent.
At aged 31, beautiful twin daughters arrived followed closely by another beautiful little girl. Three children under three years old. Challenging times!
My 30s were not easy. While rugby had provided magnificent experiences, it had come at the cost of putting other parts of life on hold. I spent my 30s trying to build a sustainable life.
I was balancing the requirements of being a dad while trying to reinvent myself.
I was building a career so I continued my education and engaged in post graduate business studies.
I started a small business and planning for the future of my family being aware of the needs of my partner, I built a house in the country to raise my kids.
While this energy was going into attending to the immediate needs of my family, I began coaching rugby, at the same time dealing with post-concussion syndrome.
The balance was difficult to achieve and I did not get it all right. Retrospectively I would have done some things very differently.
The challenges of a normal life became apparent, and time to focus on my physical health was minimal. The opportunity to grab small windows of time to exercise presented itself as ‘push chair runs’ whereby the double buggy was loaded with my twins when I got home from work in the evening and I’d head off on a run that could range from 30 minutes to two hours.
After completing a couple of half marathons, my orthopaedic surgeon informed me that he would not be operating on my busted ankle for a ninth time and that running was only going to speed up the degeneration of my body and exacerbate the old rugby injuries. So ended that activity.
Some very important lessons were learnt during this period. I learned that in order for me to be the best version of myself, I needed to revisit the disciplines of physical activity I had learned as an athlete. During times when demands came from all directions and stress levels were excessive, it was easy to start the day with a coffee, maintain energy with more coffee and end the day with a beer. Looking back on photos of this time I cringe at the weight I was carrying in my gut and face. And the tired look on my face as well as the lack of condition in my body.
I eventually learned not to beat myself up about putting time aside to exercise. I knew I needed to and that others also needed me to exercise so I could be a better person. Subsequently I did my best to schedule exercise into my day. It didn’t happen every day but it did happen.
My career opportunities had started to evolve and I was required to perform at a higher level. It was necessary for me to be mentally sharp. Not easy having come from a background of multiple concussions!
Exercise enabled me to maintain the ability to think quickly and with clarity for longer periods. I quickly developed the mantra ‘fit body, fit mind’ and became more mindful of the foods, drinks and behaviours that depleted energy and resulted in mental fatigue.
I had known the process of developing new habits from sport and knew it wasn’t easy to create these. However, through spending some time at the front end of the week preparing schedules, working out logistics and making good food easily accessible I gave myself a better chance of success.
As my kids grew they became involved in activities such surfing, swimming, soccer, netball, rugby, basketball, cross-fit, cross country and triathlons. Being time poor, I figured that a number of birds could be killed with one stone if I joined in or coached the sports they liked. Their exercise became my exercise, and was the source of much enjoyment. Now that the kids are older and more capable, we exercise together doing different activities such as biking the river trails, mountain bike and walking tracks and competitive small-sided games.
As my daughters have improved and been selected in representative teams, I have begun to attend representative trainings. This initially meant watching from the sidelines. The level of organisation is impressive within these sports and coaches and management are well prepared.
Unfortunately parents are left with the option to sit and watch, or come back and pick the kids up once they are finished. I observed one of the parents doing yoga during the kids’ trainings. I quickly realised it was a good idea and put my exercise gear in the car. I was a little apprehensive to do yoga as the parent seemed to be an expert but I did use the time to get a sweat up and get my lungs and body working.
I am 42 this year. I am currently the centre director for Sport Science and Human Performance at Wintec and continue to be involved in many sports at all levels. My twin girls will be 11 and my youngest eight. The challenge to find time to fit everything in continues, as the as does the challenge to be the best version of myself.
I am older, a little wiser, my body does not bounce back as easily after hard physical work and I put on weight quicker. I do know that a fit body helps achieve a fit mind and that the older I get the more determined I need to be in prioritising my health.