Jonah Lomu - from rugby to bodybuilding

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Jonah Lomu performs his routine during the Wellington Bodybuilding Championships at Victoria University

It’s not an image that one would wish to dwell on for too long, but two weeks ago one of the most famous rugby players in the world covered himself in hair-removing cream and paced around his bathroom, flexing his muscles every time he passed the mirror and marvelling at his newly sculpted shape. He then stepped into the shower, washed the cream off and delighted in his new hair-free body. “There was hair everywhere,” he recalls. “All over the shower, the towels and the floor, but none of it on me. Weird.”

Weird indeed. But weirder still, he then covered himself in glistening, bronzing tanning oil, dressed in the sort of shiny, turquoise posing pants that one might more readily associate with Girls Aloud, and danced on the stage in front of a loud, cheering crowd before dropping into the splits at the end.

Ladies and gentlemen — introducing the new Jonah Lomu. The awesome New Zealand wing who tore the England defence to pieces on a memorable afternoon in Cape Town 14 years ago is not in the early stages of gender reassignment but has become a competitive body-builder. “Oh man, I enjoyed it,” admits the 34-year-old, who came second in the Wellington Open Championships a few weeks ago. “But all my old rugby friends couldn’t stop laughing. They were amazed that I was going through with it, and learning the dance routines, and they were like, ‘Look how much your body’s changed!’ Lomu says he looks less like a brick these days and more triangular, with wide shoulders and a narrower waist. He lost 35kg while training for the competition and now weighs in at 115kg [18st 1.5lb], his weight when he left school and joined the All Blacks.

Lomu’s surprising decision to train for a new sport came after he heard about the plight of Tracy Toulis, a body-builder eager to rebuild her career after an operation for breast cancer. “She needed a partner for the pairs event so I thought, ‘Hell, yeah, I can do that’. I like a challenge,” he says. Lomu started training in May, giving him just a few months to prepare for the competition in September. When the time came, he entered the individual competition as well.

He says he cut carbohydrates out completely towards the end, and trained so hard that he was blacking out in the gym. “Body-building takes you to a strange place,” he says. “You get to know yourself because you’re carb-depleted and feeling shaky. You start using parts of your mind I don’t think you might have used before. The only times I’ve gone to these places is on a rugby field when you feel you can’t go on but know you need to find that extra step to make that extra tackle, and you find it from somewhere inside you and know you’re on the edge. That’s what body-building’s like. The intensity is awesome.”

Lomu was rugby’s first big superstar. His performances at the 1995 World Cup changed the sport forever. The power he wielded in the All Blacks team was colossal, as he tore across the pitch with the number 11 carved into his eyebrow like the branding on a prize bull. The number 11 tattooed on his chest is still there for all to see. He was cartoon-like in his brilliance. The man was every position in the rugby field rolled into one — the sheer size and immovability of the forwards, the tackle count of an outside-centre and the speed of a wing. He ran the 100m in 10.8sec at school while running barefoot, and was bench-pressing 200kg [31.5st] in his lunch times. “My life changed the day I played England in 1995,” he says. “In the course of 90 minutes, everything about my life altered forever. By the time I left the pitch I was famous.”

But all the time, he was ill. He had been diagnosed with nephrotic syndrome — a kidney illness — in 1994, the year before he blasted his way into the global consciousness. By the time the giant wing played in the 1999 World Cup, his doctor was sitting in a laboratory in Auckland, pondering the test results from samples supplied by Lomu before he left. The doctor called Lomu’s manager.

“Look. Lomu’s seriously ill. You have to bring him in here.”

“No way, he’s on the pitch playing against England,” the reply came. “We’ll call you after the game.”

By 2003 Lomu was on dialysis, and in 2004, by which time he could barely walk unaided, he had a kidney transplant thanks to a donation from Grant Kereama, a New Zealand radio presenter. Surgeons placed the organ under Lomu’s rib cage to protect it from knocks, knowing he was eager to continue playing rugby.

“You know what’s amazing, my recovery from the transplant is making me realise that my legs always hurt me,” he says. “Even when I was a teenager my legs weren’t pain-free like they are now. In the 1995 World Cup against England, I was in pain. I just never realised that until now. I wonder if I could have been better if I’d been fully fit. I wonder what it’ll be like to play now I’m recovered.”

Lomu will soon find out. He is re-launching his rugby career in November as he starts playing for the French second division side Marseilles Vitrolle. “Man, I feel like a little kid at the candy store waiting for it to open,” he says. “I’m so excited I could burst. I’m like a little kid. I am, really. I just wanna play again. I’m fit, I’m strong and I want it so badly.”

He had planned to start playing again last year but his partner, Nadene, fell pregnant, so he cancelled all plans to return to the game and vowed to look after her instead. “I was told there was a one in 100,000 chance of me having a child,” he says. “Then my partner became pregnant. We couldn’t believe it. I wanted nothing to go wrong. If she sneezed I rushed her to the doctor. I just wanted to be there to make sure the baby was safe. For the first time, rugby wasn’t that important.”

His son, Brayley, is now eight months old, and Lomu says that becoming a father has changed everything. “I think about my own parents now [Semisi and Hepi, who are long-estranged] and I’ve made some steps to get in touch with them. I think it will work out well. I’m loving being a dad and want to make sure my son’s looked after. I want to be fit and strong for him. I would like to carry on with body-building after I retire from rugby. I want to be able to stand next to my son when he’s 20 and I’m 50-plus, and feel proud of the way I look, and for him to be proud of me. I don’t want to be some fat guy in a bar with a big belly. I don’t want people to say, ‘See that guy there? He was Jonah Lomu. What on earth happened to him?’”

JONAH LOMU, RUGBY'S FIRST SUPERSTAR

 ‘It’s not something I revel in watching again but you cannot help but look in awe at the way in which he took us apart. The world had already stood up and taken notice of Jonah but on that day he became more than just a player, he became the essence of the World Cup’ — England wing Tony Underwood

 ‘He’s just a freak, and the sooner he goes away the better’ — Will Carling speaking after the 1995 World Cup semi-final

 ‘On that day, Lomu played with a dynamic power above and beyond anything we had ever experienced’ — Jack Rowell, England coach at 1995 World Cup

 ‘There’s no doubt about it, he’s one big bastard’ — Gavin Hastings after Scotland’s 1995 World Cup quarter-final defeat

 ‘I suppose you might stop him with an elephant gun’ — Brian Moore, England hooker for the semi-final

 ‘I’ve seen a lot of people like him, but they weren’t playing on the wing’ — New Zealand legend Colin Meads in 1995

 ‘Lomu, in 1996, was phenomenal. It was great to be part of that team and see him at full flight’ — Sean Fitzpatrick, Lomu’s captain for club and country

 ‘Remember, rugby is a team game. All 14 of you make sure you pass it straight to Jonah.’ — Fax to the New Zealand hotel before the 1995 World Cup final

From -  October 11, 2009

 

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john gibson  - Superstar   |.
Jonah Lomu was the best thing that ever happened to the game of rugby, his
strength, speed, commitment and sheer will to win stood out and showed the way
forward for a whole generation, good luck to the man I’m sure he will take the
body building world by storm, well done big man!
Ddobsy  - Determination   |.
What this article shows us the single minded determination you need to be a
success. Lomu is a wonderful example of that single mindedness. I'm ure that had
the number 1 priority not been his family, he would have found the extra to win
his competition. Good luck in your return to Rugby.
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