STRICTLY BALL­ROOM

Gra­ham’s waltz­ing boy won­der JACK’S DANC­ING DOWN HIS OWN PATH AND HIS DAD DOESN’T MIND A BIT

New Zealand Woman’s Weekly - - THIS WEEK IN... - Amy Preb­ble

Gra­ham’s proud tears for Jack

For rugby league leg­end Gra­ham Lowe, old habits die hard. As he watched his son Jack de­liver a mag­nif­i­cent per­for­mance at a na­tional com­pe­ti­tion, he leapt to his feet and yelled, “Go num­ber 14!”

Gra­ham’s other son Sam had to in­ter­vene. “Dad, shut up – you’re not at the footy!” The Lowe fam­ily were sup­port­ing Jack at the New Zealand Ball­room Cham­pi­onships in Hamil­ton, so Gra­ham (72) brought his en­cour­age­ment down a notch.

“I stood on the edge of the dance floor and I just watched them [Jack and his dance part­ner Ar­wyn Stevens]. They were do­ing one of the waltzes, they came down to­wards me and all of a sud­den it just got me. The grace, style and the strength. And I started cry­ing. Then Sam hissed, ‘Dad, you’ve taken the cringe fac­tor to 10,’” Gra­ham says, laugh­ing.

Jack (15) con­firms that

Gra­ham is an emo­tional spec­ta­tor. “Dad doesn’t re­ally see many of the prac­tices. He re­ally only sees me at com­pe­ti­tions and he just cries usu­ally.”

Gra­ham, who has coached Aus­tralian rugby league team the Manly Sea Ea­gles, English pow­er­house Wi­gan, and is the only non-Aus­tralian to coach a team in the State of Ori­gin com­pe­ti­tion, says he is blown away not only by the beauty of the danc­ing, but also by the in­tense train­ing needed to

achieve ball­room great­ness. “Jack puts in more train­ing than most pro­fes­sional rugby league play­ers that I’ve ever had any­thing to do with,” he says. “And I de­manded a lot from play­ers when I was coach­ing. What’s re­quired for what he does is just at an­other level.”

Sam (15) is the sporty one in the fam­ily – he’s a keen bas­ket­ball and vol­ley­ball player – but nei­ther of the twins is fol­low­ing in their fa­mous dad’s foot­steps. This doesn’t worry Gra­ham in the slight­est.

“That’s one of the ques­tions I get asked all the time, ‘Gee, you were a long time as a footy coach – surely you want one of your boys to play footy?’ But I couldn’t care less. You see what they’re do­ing and how good they are and what op­por­tu­ni­ties lie in front of them.”

He’s also glad that boys have more op­tions these days. “When I was young, boys who danced, we thought they were sissies. But it’s not like that now. It’s just fan­tas­tic. I’d ad­vise any kid to get into it. I’ve never seen any­thing like it. It’s not only the phys­i­cal ef­fort that’s re­quired – it’s the men­tal tough­ness as well. Most peo­ple I know from footy wouldn’t be able to cope. It would be too much.”

Jack says his dad has never put any pres­sure on him to get into sport. “I al­ways wanted to be in­ter­ested in sport and I en­joyed touch rugby and stuff,” he says. “But danc­ing was al­ways my thing.”

He started bal­let les­sons at the age of three and has now branched into tap, jazz and hip-hop. He also takes dance as an NCEA sub­ject at school – so he has a bunch of friends in his year who are also into danc­ing.

How­ever, ball­room is Jack’s main pas­sion. He and Ar­wyn train with Danc­ing with the

Stars alumni Jonny and Kristie Wil­liams and, ul­ti­mately, he’d love to make a ca­reer out of it. “It’s just so fun to do and I love it so much,” he says.

“I just feel im­mensely proud,” his mum Karen (57), says of watch­ing Jack and Ar­wyn (14). “I see all of the work they put in and you see it come to fruition on the floor. They make it look so easy, but there are hours and hours and hours of work getting all of those moves per­fect.”

On the odd oc­ca­sion that Gra­ham does attend one of Jack’s prac­tices, he has to hold back from in­ter­fer­ing. “I sup­pose ev­ery par­ent’s the same,” he says. “I’ve found with Jack’s train­ing, it’s hard hav­ing some­one else telling him what to do. I’m pro­tec­tive of him.”

Gra­ham finds his son’s work ethic in­spir­ing. “I’m now busier than I’ve ever been in my life. I think that a lot of it is to do with Jack. He prac­tises five days a week, three hours at a time.”

The sports stal­wart spends a lot of time work­ing for his char­ity The Lowie Foun­da­tion, which uses the 12 prin­ci­ples Gra­ham de­vel­oped dur­ing his coach­ing ca­reer and the lan­guage of sport as a hook to en­tice stu­dents back to ed­u­ca­tion.

“I be­lieve there is more than one way to learn,” says Gra­ham. “I left school at 14. And I see, par­tic­u­larly in dis­ad­van­taged ar­eas, many kids with nat­u­ral tal­ent but they’re slip­ping through the cracks and not getting ed­u­ca­tion for what­ever rea­son. So what we’ve done is we’ve de­signed ba­sic lit­er­acy and nu­mer­acy cour­ses, and then we use the lan­guage of sport to teach them.”

The pilot of his pro­gramme, which he ran in Kaitaia in 2014, was so suc­cess­ful that the gov­ern­ment ap­proached him to trial the ini­tia­tive in prisons.

“So we tried it and it was an ab­so­lute suc­cess. We’ve al­ready grad­u­ated more than 100 men in Foun­da­tion Level 2 ba­sic lit­er­acy and nu­mer­acy stud­ies, which is mas­sive. It’s about teach­ing in a dif­fer­ent way.”

He is proud that The Lowie Foun­da­tion re­ceived the 2018 Corrections Part­ner­ship Award and he has big plans to help more peo­ple in the fu­ture. But Gra­ham freely ad­mits that if he and Karen hadn’t had the twins, he prob­a­bly wouldn’t have started the foun­da­tion.

He has sur­vived nu­mer­ous se­ri­ous health prob­lems, in­clud­ing a brain hae­m­or­rhage in 1991 that left him in a coma, heart at­tacks, deep vein throm­bo­sis and strokes. He has also un­der­gone a triple by­pass. But he says Jack and Sam have given him a new lease of life.

“They’ve done some­thing to me − it’s no dis­re­spect to my girls, Sarah and Amy; they’re mar­ried women with two chil­dren each and I love them ev­ery bit as much. But these guys have just to­tally changed me, even my health. I was fully ex­pect­ing that I wouldn’t last un­til 60. I’m 72 now.

“Re­cently we were hav­ing a five-year plan meet­ing and I said to the guys at the end of it, ‘You do re­alise that by the time this ends I’m go­ing to be 77. I just want to put some per­spec­tive on it!’”

Karen and Gra­ham are in awe of the hard work Jack puts in for his dance train­ing.

Jack and his dance part­ner Ar­wyn train with Danc­ing with the Stars alumni Jonny and Kristie Wil­liams.

They may not fol­low in Dad’s footy foot­steps, but Jack (far left) and his twin Sam make both their par­ents (be­low) su­per-proud.

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