This much I know Brent Pope
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