Yesterday I heard the news that Ita Vaea's rugby career has been cut short by heart related health concerns. Heart related.
As a rugby player and as a person Ita Vaea is all heart. He built a career smashing into, over and through any obstacle in his path.
There isn't a teammate that didn’t love playing alongside him or an opponent that didn’t respect him. But for all Ita’s ferocity on the field he is the quintessential gentle giant off it.
You need only mention Ita’s name to watch those who know him break into smiles.
Every teammate and coach has at least one story that celebrates Ita’s idiosyncrasies and unique approach to life.
Much of his charm stems from the fact that he is a throwback rugby union player.
One ill-fitted to much of what professionalism has ushered into our game, and unapologetic in his disdain for trivialities such as nutritionists & beep-tests.
Though Ita would begrudgingly tolerate recovery sessions and skin fold assessments his true passion was violent, rugby approved combat.
I can’t recall a more physically committed, damaging ball-carrier & defender.
I imagine Ita will be somewhat nonplussed by all the fuss around his retirement. Brumbies scrum coach, Dan Palmer, said it best when he stated that it takes a lot to become an honorary member of the front rowers union (FRU), but that Ita was as natural a fit as anyone is likely to find.
The FRU are defined by a roll up your sleeves mentality (and a deep commitment to steak) that Ita typified.
Few players could have forced their way back into the game after the shock of a life threatening illness but Ita did just that and more, returning to his explosive best over the past two years.
There can be no doubt that Wallaby colours beckoned for Ita, just as there can no doubt that he has made the right decision to retire.
As a professional athlete it can be incredibly difficult to see beyond the bubble of sport.
But life is made of much more and I know Ita has the kind of perspective that will ensure he thrives in any environment.
Although Ita wont be lacing up his boots with his mates he will remain part of the Brumbies family forever.
He loves being surrounded by teammates & they love having him around.
I know that the Brumbies and the Rugby Union Players Association will ensure that Ita transitions into the next phase of his life with all the support he needs.
I dug up a Louis L'Amour quote I thought I might be able to use in this piece: “There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning.”
That is until I realised how Ita would respond to such a predictable platitude. I imagine he would summon an unimpressed expression before stating “Pretty crap saying there Dox”
Dox, thanks for the memories.
Clyde Rathbone captained South Africa to a Junior Rugby World Cup in 2002 before immigrating to Australia, playing 73 matches with the ACT Brumbies and 26 for the Wallabies. He is co-founder technology of Karma.wiki
The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the ARU.