This much I know Brent Pope

Irish Examiner - Weekend - - Upfront - Sports pre­sen­ter In con­ver­sa­tion with Hi­lary Fen­nell

Grow­ing up in the New Zealand coun­try­side, we spent a lot of time out­doors and I al­ways had a nat­u­ral love of sport. I was lucky enough to try ev­ery­thing from ski­ing, surf­ing, horse-rid­ing – and of course rugby – from an early age.

I was a sickly child. I was born with bron­chi­tis and dou­ble pneu­mo­nia and the um­bil­i­cal cord wrapped around my neck. I’d bad asthma un­til I was six and they thought I had can­cer at one stage. But I was a cheeky kid.

I was told I wouldn’t achieve much as I was too easy to dis­tract and too prone to dis­tract­ing oth­ers. I was not stu­dious. I was told what I couldn’t do, not what I could do. That stunted me and I suf­fered a lot as a re­sult but I know now that my be­hav­iour was sim­ply mask­ing the re­al­ity of my low self es­teem.

The high­light of my ca­reer so far has been play­ing rugby for New Zealand. The low­light was get­ting in­jured in the very last sec­ond of the last day of the 1987 World Cup.

I be­gan broad­cast­ing by chance. I was play­ing rugby over here for the 1995 sea­son when I was asked to com­men­tate. The re­sponse was won­der­ful and I was asked to stay on.

My great­est chal­lenge has been over­com­ing the shame around my men­tal health is­sues. I suf­fered crip­pling panic at­tacks from the age of four­teen and had an over­whelm­ing sense of fail­ure. I car­ried it for most of my life: ‘You are a New Zealand rugby player, you are meant to be the strong and si­lent type.’ Things changed when I be­gan to ask for help.

I was very pleased to have been in­vited to present the Na­tional Hid­den Dis­abil­ity Awards and to shine a light where it’s needed. Six or­gan­i­sa­tions, which are do­ing a tremen­dous job of see­ing be­yond hid­den dis­abil­i­ties in the work­place, were short­listed and it was won by Hays plc.

If I could change one thing in our so­ci­ety, I’d change our at­ti­tudes to­wards men­tal health and the is­sue of lone­li­ness. Many older peo­ple live alone and I find it sad that peo­ple don’t talk to one an­other as much any more. Walk­ing through Black­rock re­cently I got talk­ing to a man in his 90s. We had an in­ter­est­ing chat about ev­ery­thing from the church to mo­tor­bikes and as he was leav­ing me grabbed my hand and thanked me for the con­ver­sa­tion.

The most im­por­tant traits to me are kind­ness and em­pa­thy. What ir­ri­tates me most about other peo­ple is rude­ness.

I’m good at get­ting things done, as a kid my nick name was Project Pope, I al­ways had some­thing on the go.

I try to get to the gym. I look in the mir­ror and say ‘this time next year, you are go­ing be ripped,’ be­cause I still feel very young men­tally, but I sup­pose I must ad­mit the re­al­ity which is that my body is get­ting older. I want to be­lieve in an af­ter life. I was brought up as a strict Catholic.

I’m a work in progress. I live alone in Black­rock. I’ve suf­fered my share of heart­break. Peo­ple don’t ex­pect me to be lonely, but when you also work on your own, as I mainly do, you do tend to spend a lot of time with­out any so­cial in­ter­ac­tion.

It’s not my fault that I am not mar­ried with chil­dren. Al­though maybe I have sab­o­taged my­self once or twice when good things did come along by think­ing I wasn’t wor­thy – I’d think, what is she with me for? My idea of bliss is to have a whole other ca­reer as a movie di­rec­tor.

I have the abil­ity to get peo­ple to open up to me. I’m do­ing a Mas­ters in Coun­selling and Psy­chother­apy as I see my fu­ture as help­ing peo­ple in this area, es­pe­cially young rugby play­ers who might be go­ing through some­thing sim­i­lar to what I went through. I’m writ­ing a self help book.

So far life has taught me to fight the good fight and to per­se­vere. In the end, it’s not about the road less trav­eled, it’s about the road long­est trav­eled.

Brent Pope an­nounced Hays plc crowned win­ners at the Inau­gu­ral Na­tional Hid­den Dis­abil­ity Awards

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