Twelve Questions: Kevin Mealamu

Keven Mealamu is the third All Black to play more than 100 games for the national side. He is a father of two and illustrates children's books to raise money for the Starship hospital.

Keven Mealamu has a passion for fashion, shoes and drawing. Photo / Greg Bowker
Keven Mealamu has a passion for fashion, shoes and drawing. Photo / Greg Bowker

1.Your Blues coach John Kirwan is editing the paper today. What sort of job will he do?

I think it'll really pop. And there should be a good fashion section. He likes his shoes, too. JK was one of my heroes growing up. I remember the big runs he used to do and how he'd shatter the flagpole when he scored. We've been so lucky to have him at the Blues. He's got an aura about him and he really speaks from the heart. He can really get across how he feels. I think he's instilled real pride, not just in the team, but in Auckland itself. We're all lucky to have him.

2.That ear looks really painful: Is it?

Not any more. When I first got it, it was really sore but it's calcified now. You can squeeze it and I wouldn't be able to feel it. I got a little knock on it once and it flared up then just kept getting knocked. I'll have the cauliflower ear for the rest of my life now. We do lots of visits to schools and the kids there are really honest. They'll stare at it for a while then go, "What happened to your ear?" I just tell them it still functions.

The other one was even bigger but I had it cut down to size.

3.Everyone says you're the nicest man in the team: has that always worked in your favour?

One thing my dad always said to me was "be humble". There are some downsides to that. It's hard to get down someone's throat. It's harder to demand things from people, as a senior player or as a captain. I do it, but it doesn't come naturally. It's work, it's time to go to work and part of my job is being physical, tackling hard, hitting players with all your might, within the rules of the game, of course.

4.Do you ever get angry?

Quite a few years back I would get angry but after you've been around for a while, you know the difference between anger and focus. I'm not a naturally angry person. If you don't mess with my family then I'll be a happy man.

5.That's a very fetching dress you've drawn on your new book: do the All Blacks give you stick for the art?

They're actually pretty good about it. I'd expect stick, but everyone's very supportive of my work. Back in school I always used to draw shoes. I love clothes. There's only 23 or 24 pictures in each book but it takes a long time to do. I mostly work on our kitchen bench and there's a rubbish bin at one end of it. If my kids don't really like a picture, it ends up in there.

6.Was it nerve-racking putting your art out for publication?

I've just always loved art and sport and on my mum's side of the family there were lots of artists. But putting your work out there is hard. You wonder what people think of it. I've seen a progression through the books which has been really good but I was super-nervous on the first one. Playing rugby in front of a big crowd, that's my zone and I love it. But I was more nervous putting my work out there and wondering, "What will people think of me?"

7.How big a part does faith play in your life?

It's always with you. I'm Catholic. Go to church whenever I can. When we were on tour in Italy I stopped into a church with a couple of the other boys and went to confession. I said I hadn't been to church for a long time and the priest said being Christian is not just about going to church, it's about having a relationship with God. That was really special and made me feel a bit better because it's hard when you're on tour.

8.What do you want to teach your children?

As I've gotten older in my faith, it's been about the gratitude, being thankful for what I have. When you travel around the world as we do, you quickly realise not everyone is as lucky as we are. You might be staying in a five-star hotel, but the poverty is just across the road. I really want to teach my kids to be grateful for all they have.

9.Does your wife Latai worry about you when you're playing?

I think she trusts that I'll look after myself on the field. She's seen me do it a lot but she does worry when the scrums go down. I just make sure I do everything I can to protect myself and the people around you. I know the tricks to shorten my neck, to make sure you're not leaving it out there to get injured. When a scrum collapses, the thing is to stop pushing. It's hard, because you want to push, but it's much safer if you stop. My son is a front rower too and it's his first year scrummaging this year. I'm trying to teach him those little things.

10.How did you meet Latai?

We met in Dunedin when I was down there on a rugby tour. It was just in a little pub. She didn't know who I was - her family is leaguey - and that was good. We've been married 10 years this year. We balance each other out. She's quite outgoing and a strong personality, a strong woman. She's a real rock, really dependable, and I can just trust that she'll know what to do when I need her. I think I'm so lucky to have found my soulmate, even if I had to travel the country to find her.

11.How important is your Samoan heritage to you?

My mum was born in Tokoroa but my grandparents migrated to Tokoroa. They must have been the first Samoans there. Growing up in Tokoroa, there was no one to converse with in Samoan, so I don't speak it well. If there's one thing on my bucket list it would be to speak Samoan.

12.How do you cope with stress?

On the field, breathing is really important. Being able to centre yourself - especially when you're a hooker and have to throw the ball in - is crucial. Breathing is a big part of dealing with stress and being able to simplify things. Just thinking, "What's my job now and what do I need to do?" That takes away the "what's going to happen" worry. We're really lucky in the ABs to have Gilbert [Enoka, the mental skills coach] and he spends a lot of time with us on mental strength. We're all constantly looking at ways to get better. I think in those last two games on tour it was just our belief that won it. Mental toughness is really the difference in the sport these days.

*The book Room 23 and Mysterious Miss P and Five More Fantastic Stories, illustrated by Keven Mealamu, is available from www.barfoot.co.nz/storybook for just $15. All money raised goes to Starship Foundation.

- NZ Herald

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