We live in an era where sport is now a profession and athletes have the capability to earn a significant short-term income in exchange for their full-time commitment and dedication to a sporting cause. While there is certainly some down time for athletes to indulge in a hobby or some study, the perception is that one is either a full-time athlete, engaged in one’s craft 24/7, or one has a ‘normal’ career in a job or business, and never the twain shall meet. However, there have been a number of stories in various codes where some athletes have attempted to juggle both sporting and non-sporting careers, and succeeded. And not only that, they have catapulted themselves in both careers, for reasons that go beyond mere talent and competency. We take you through a number of examples of athletes employed while competing still.
It doesn’t have to be a minefield
It is tempting then to hypothesise just how many athletes have slipped through the proverbial cracks as they simply didn’t believe that they could mix careers and that it was a boolean, mutually exclusive decision between the two.
Rugby league’s Nathan Ross is perhaps the best example of someone that bucked that trend. He was playing at a fairly high level while also working on the mines. He quit that job after receiving a second-tier contract at the Newcastle Knights in 2013 and commenced 3 days a week as a Health & Safety Officer at Downer Infrastructure.
Between Nathan and the coaching staff, they managed to work out a schedule that suited him, the team and his company bosses. For example, when he was either not playing or on the bench, he was allowed to train half a day. This in addition to being a father to a 2-year-old son.
As it stands today, he is now on a full NRL contract with the Knights until the end of 2017, and no longer an employee of Downer, but has the option of returning once his professional career is over.
From pots to trophies
Beau Robinson’s story is one of urban legend. He had been around the Waratahs’ squad for 3 seasons but had only accumulated 21 caps, mostly from the bench. Ewen McKenzie gave him the opportunity in 2011 to join the Reds’ pre-season squad, but there were no guarantees. But the blonde flanker packed up his Holden Commodore and took his mum for some company, driving 1022km to Brisbane. As he had no form of income, Beau had to make ends meet, and so he opted for a 20-25 hours-a-week bar job at the Irish Heart Hotel in Goodna, about 20km west of Brisbane.
Just before the Reds’ first game, McKenzie had an opening in the full squad, and the rest is history. Beau was, without a doubt, one of Queensland Reds’ unsung heroes in a title-winning 2011 season, and his stellar season even resulted in a meteoric rise to earn a single Wallaby cap that July. Beau is now playing in London, at Harlequins, with former Wallaby and Reds’ teammate, James Horwill.
On court and in court
Liz Ellis AM was without doubt one of Australia’s finest netballers. She was awarded an Order of Australia Medal (AM) in the 2009 Australia Day Honours List. Liz played for the Australian Diamonds between 1992 and 2007, and is still Australia’s most capped player (122 tests). She was captain for her final four years on the court, which included winning the Netball World Championships in her last game, and being voted Best Player in the tournament.
Liz obtained a Bachelor of Arts and Laws from Macquarie University in 1996 and was admitted as a Solicitor to the Supreme Court of New South Wales in 1998. While rising up the netball ranks in the mid- to late-90s, she simultaneously practised Property and Infrastructure Law with Corrs Chambers Westgarth, but soon realised that she really didn’t love it and so pursued a career in netball.
Today things are much more different for netballers, as a professional career is a realistic option. Indeed, Liz was one of the only players to make a career out of netball. A lot of her contemporaries were tertiary educated and have gone on to become physios, doctors and accountants. Today, Liz is a well-known media personality and runs coaching clinics for kids.
Perhaps the most interesting example was former South African wicket-keeper, Errol Stewart, who juggled not only one other career, but two! In the mid-90s, it wasn’t unusual for Stewart to keep wicket one night for Natal, run out for the Sharks in the centres on the Saturday in a Currie Cup clash, and be back at work on the Monday. In fact, he has the rare distinction of having won the domestic trophy in two different sports in the same season (1995). Stewart held the position of Sponsorship Head at the ICC (International Cricket Council) for 3 years, is now working in banking and is also a South African national cricket selector.
Nowadays, mixing two sports is more of the exception to the rule, but we’ve seen the likes of cricketer and soccer player, Ellyse Perry, do it, as well as Sonny-Bill Williams (rugby and boxing).
Some athletes even worked in sporting circles before trying their hands at a professional career. Nathan Lyon was a member of the Adelaide Oval ground staff, when he was called into the Australian net session to bowl at the batsmen, who were trying to counter the threat of England off-spinner, Graeme Swann.
Then there are the various AFL guys who have launched clothing labels, such as Dane Swan and Josh Gibson, and are incredibly hands-on with their brands.
Vehicle for success
It’s not just the superstars who are mixing it up. Johnny Redelinghuys, the former Namibian rugby prop, was running a construction company, and was getting up at 3am to go to work, driving 340km in a day, and on some days have to be back in Windhoek for 5pm training.
The above stories do show that it is not only possible to juggle two careers, but it is also highly encouraged to have a plan for a life after sport. Recently retired All Blacks captain Richie McCaw made that decision; he obtained his helicopter pilot’s licence a while ago and will now enter into that career.
Down to earth
In some cases, needs must, and so having to have a job is a non-negotiable. In the cases of athletes who have successfully made it, it does make for an interesting story that adds to their persona; in a way it ‘humanises’ them in a world where fame and personal brands have become first and foremost.
Having a backup plan or a job in conjunction with a playing career also has a significant impact on the person themselves, perhaps without them even realising it. Having a purpose and the discipline it takes to combine careers, will invariably ultimately lead to them becoming a better person. And better people make better players.