Everybody, chill out, it's just a few kilos

Piri Weepu.  Photo / Christine Cornege
Piri Weepu. Photo / Christine Cornege

Star All Black halfback Piri Weepu is first to admit that, after the Rugby World Cup, he let himself go. As our Olympians return home, he offers some advice on handling the aftermath of glory.

News flash ... I'm not a supermodel! To use a couple of cliches, my legs don't go all the way to my neck and it's fair to say I'm built for comfort rather than speed. I'm a chunky dude, there's no getting away from it.

Genetics obviously play a part; I don't come from small stock but, unlike a lot of people, I don't get too hung up about my ideal weight or my skin folds. Life is way too short.

There's no getting away from the truth, which is that I'm a professional rugby player, a bloke in his late 20s who started out life as a skinny, scrawny kid and now as an adult weighs in at a few kilos over his optimum.

But, another news flash, they are kilos I'm not going to spend the rest of my life apologising about.

When I first started playing rugby professionally I weighed 92kg. At my heaviest, during the break last summer after the 2011 Rugby World Cup, I blew out to 106kg. But generally my playing weight has been between 94-96kg.

If people think I take my weight lightly - no pun intended - they are mistaken. I'm well aware I only have to look at food and the kilos pile on, just as I realise that the battle with my weight is likely to be a challenge I will face for the rest of my life. I wish I had the genes of Cory Jane who can eat whatever he likes and actually lose weight: it's unreal and unfair how some of us literally drew the short(ish), squat straw.

But, as we all know, we've got to work with what we've got. And sometimes we struggle.

I did take my eye off the nutrition and exercise ball last summer. I had a lengthy break, I didn't watch what I ate as well as I could have, but neither was I sitting around stuffing my face as has been suggested. My summer break wasn't all about chilling out; in fact, December turned out to be one of the most stressful months of my life.

Only a couple of months after my Dad's birth-father passed away, in the week leading up to the All Blacks' RWC quarter-final against Argentina, Dad ended up in hospital fighting for his life. For three weeks we virtually lived at Hutt Hospital where my dad was in ICU, and for two of those three weeks he was in an induced coma. There was a real chance he wasn't going to make it. It gave us all a big scare. I've never seen my brother Billy cry like he did and it was especially tough on Mum because she thought she was going to lose her soul mate. She found it hard to listen to what the doctors were saying so the rest of the family became her ears, taking in what was being said, asking questions and then, later on, talking her through everything we'd been told.

While Dad was in the coma we kept ourselves busy by helping the nurses who were caring for him. They explained what needed to be done, things like organising ourselves into a roll team where every three or four hours three of us would roll him from one side to the other and also helping the staff to change his sheets.

In between times we'd play cards and try to joke and laugh, but it was difficult not to think about him not making it. We knew that if we lost him it would be like a big piece had gone missing from our family.

Mum wouldn't leave Dad's bedside and my brother Billy and I knew that she'd be up all night so for the majority of the time we stayed there, too, and made sure she got some sleep. We basically created our own marae in the whanau room, which is where people from outside Wellington can stay.

Now, when I look back on it, there were things that happened or were said that were kind of funny. It was the first time we'd ever seen Mum pray and she would make comments like, "I promise I won't swear at him ever again." Of course, as soon as he was out of hospital she was back into him.

Dad was released from hospital just before Christmas. It was the best Christmas present that any of us received last year. But Dad being so sick did make leaving home and heading to Auckland far more difficult than I had imagined it would be. Not only was I leaving my girls, I was having to move away from my father whom I'd come so close to losing. Thankfully, he made a good recovery.

By April he'd started back at work doing about half his usual hours. Dad works the night shift at the Epuni Boys' Home. There was a real plus to him being back at work: none of our family had to listen to his snoring!

DESPITE HOW I've been portrayed through the media this year, I am not a human refrigerator. I accept that my diet isn't always the best, but that's more likely to be because I'm going without food rather than eating too much.

I go to the gym early two or three times a week - and by early I'm talking 5.30am - and on those days I tend not to have anything except an Up&Go to keep me ... er, going. However, on the days I'm not at the gym early I'll likely have a couple of poached eggs on toast or a bowl of cereal with trim milk, some yoghurt and a banana. If I'm guilty of anything it's that I sometimes go straight from the gym to training without having breakfast. It can be difficult to force food down your throat at an hour when most people are still asleep.

With the Blues, the team generally has lunch around 1pm after training, but there are always snacks such as fruit and crackers available.

Evenings we're left to our own devices and, if I say so myself, I should probably be on MasterChef. I'm pretty good when it comes to getting in the kitchen and creating a decent feed. I'm big into cooking, except when Mum and Dad are around or if I go home. When I'm back in Wainuiomata they do all the cooking, which is fantastic.

Being back in Wainui is also the time I'm most likely to go diving, which allows me to indulge in some of my favourite foods - fish and seafood.

Diving is a sport I'm passionate about. I first went out with a family friend and my brother, and then when I was at college I started but didn't finish a scuba-diving course. Then, when I was with the Hurricanes, a group of the boys were doing their dive ticket so I thought I might as well jump on board with them. And I've been enjoying the sport ever since.

If we don't dive with tanks we can get paua and crayfish, which you find under rocks, in cracks, places like that, and my favourite, kina. It's always proved easy to shoot a few fish, but a couple of the boys and I are still on the hunt for a kingfish.

Diving is something you can do any time of year. But there's no way I'd go into the blinkin' ocean in Wellington without wearing a wetsuit. I have two 5mm and 7mm suits. The thicker one is made to be worn in winter. Or maybe the suits should come with a label that says, "Made especially to be worn in the waters around Wellington"!

There are few things more satisfying than going out for a dive and coming home with all the ingredients for a good meal. I've even been known to take photos of my meals and upload them to Twitter. But with the food police, the media, on my case, the next thing I know my meals are, if not front-page news, certainly making headlines.

It's crazy stuff. I mean, really, who cares? I've said it before and I'm more than happy to say to those who continually want to bag me about my weight: "Get a life!"

I know I let myself put on too much weight last summer and no one is more disappointed about that fact than I am. After all, it's me who has had to carry those extra kilos around and it's me who has had to lose them.

But getting over injuries and losing weight are not things that are new to me. I remember the test against Fiji in July 2011. I wasn't allowed to play unless I got under the 99.5kg mark set me by the Three Wise Men.

"No worries," I told Ted when I was set the target, and in the week leading up to the game our trainer Nick Gill worked my arse off. It was awesome, and when I reached the target I was excited, my trainer was happy and I like to think even Ted managed a smile. Reaching that goal was a stepping stone to everything moving in the right direction for me with regard to the World Cup, and from that time I never looked back.

Graham, Smithy and Steve were always encouraging when they spoke to me about weight or fitness. Over the years they realised that positive talk got the best reaction out of me. Negative chat has the exact opposite effect. It drags me down. I don't deal well with negativity, I find it counter-productive.

Shouldn't people be more worried about how well a player does his job, how he performs on the pitch rather than how many boxes his body statistics tick on some chart?

I'VE BEEN part of the All Blacks for eight years now and during that time I've made a lot of sacrifices so I can keep wearing the black jersey.

I've always had to fight for my place in the team, and a huge amount of work went into making it back after missing out on selection for the 2007 World Cup and again in 2010 after breaking my leg. But being in the All Blacks has always been my goal.

If there's one thing that's been constant throughout my rugby career it's that I've always come in for criticism. I have this saying, "you can't control the uncontrollables", and I keep reminding myself of that. I can't control what people think or write about me, and I can't allow myself to worry about it. What I do worry about is getting on with business. Whether I'm in the best shape possible or still a work in progress, I'll always be doing the very best that I can.

At the end of the day, I don't really care what people say about my weight. They can mock me, make fun of me, call me lazy, chubby, even pregnant - anything they like. But what I am, what I've been, what I hope I'll continue to be, is something my detractors will never be - and that's an All Black.

- Herald on Sunday

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