How an NRL Legend Found Purpose and Passion After Sport
A string of injury scares made former Sydney Roosters champion Anthony Minichiello realise that being a sports star doesn’t last forever.
“Four years in a row I had two back operations, a neck, then an ankle and I was at the top of my game in 2005 as well with winning a couple of individual awards," Minichiello told PickStar's Off-Field podcast.
"So that really hit home, that this career doesn't last forever and what would I do if it all ended tomorrow?"
Minichiello said post-retirement is a dangerous time for former elite athletes.
“I've had mates that are still struggling now from retirement.," he said.
"It's massive in sport, I don't think it's a big talking point as well because sadly, some of my friends have passed away with depression and that type of stuff so it's very prevalent today.
“The thing is, it's hard to get those highs again, in sport you ride the highs and there's lows and highs on a weekly basis ... winning a Grand Final or winning an Origin match or a Test match or a big game, that's pretty much unmatched with anything you can achieve after that, so that's where people struggle, the camaraderie of it all and the feeling of putting in your absolute best and coming out victorious.”
Minichiello said top athletes follow a very specific routine for most of their lives, which also doesn't help the adjustment to life outside of sport.
“Everything is given to you as well, like everything is done, you're guided by the schedule, you know, you go overseas, just hand your passport over, everything is filled in, you don't need to send any emails, you don't need to do a thing," he said.
"And that's where I suppose we all struggle, getting that routine ... going through daily life and actually doing it for yourself.
While others struggled, Minichiello himself made a smooth transition from athlete to the 'real world'.
He said a traditional Italian upbringing helped him learn about the importance of a strong work ethic from a young age.
After winning a contract with the Roosters while still in High School, Minichiello was given an ultimatum.
"My dad said 'either finish year 11 and 12 or you go get yourself a trade, you're not just going to go do the Roosters and do nothing else, you need to have a backup plan', so I chose to get a trade and he helped me get a job.”
“I would get up early in the morning, drive bit further out, work until about 3 or 3.30pm and then drive all the way to the city, the M5 wasn't what it is now so about an hour and 15 minutes, sometimes an hour and a half with traffic, and train all night then drive all the way home and have dinner, go to bed and do it all again the next day.
"My parents had a really strong work ethic and that was really instilled in us kids growing up so I think those three years definitely helped me."
Throughout his career, Minichiello enjoyed networking with people outside of his sport.
“Growing up, I'd always talk to people or if I had a function with sponsors, just get around say hello, I was never one that just sat in the corner and hang with the boys all night," he said.
"Meeting my wife as well who is in the fashion business, getting out and meeting different people and getting away from rugby league (was important) at times mentally.
“I had other passions in life as well, I'm heavily into the health and fitness game."
Minichiello said the NRL has made significant progress with its approach to athlete wellbeing.
“Now every under 20s player needs to be working or studying, otherwise they can't play on the weekend," he said.
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