Lealiifano opens up on rugby, life and leukaemia battle
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Australian international Christian Lealiifano certainly has had plenty of challenges in his life.
In a powerful interview before he departs Pro14 side Ulster the 30-year-old discussed his childhood, the death of his father, his rugby career and his successful battle with leukaemia.
Lealiifano lost his father to liver cancer just months before the 2006 Under 19 World Cup. He considered giving the competition a miss, but his family convinced him to go and his impressive performances helped Australia to glory.
It was a "career defining" tournament according to Lealiifano, as it led to a contract with the Brumbies.
He made his debut for the Wallabies in 2013 against the British and Irish Lions.
But it was in 2016 when he faced his greatest hurdle. During the June series he started feeling unwell: "I just tried to push through training and I just got tired and was getting worse and worse. I couldn't shake a cold. I'd just had my son who was two months old and people thought that was why I was so rundown and tired, sleepless nights. I was trying to do fitness and training and started to have burning sensations in my hands and my feet and I said something is wrong."
He was diagnosed with leukaemia and said his faith helped him through a tough time, adding "there is only so much energy you have in a day and when you spend it worrying when you spend it stressing, what room do you have left to be happy. And at the end of the day you just want to be happy and whether I was going to make it through or not, I was going to make sure I was positive and happy."
With a partner and young son, he was determined to win his battle with the disease.
"That was a real drive for me, I needed to be a father for Jeremiah, there was no way he was going to grow up without a dad. That motivated me so much. Just to see him there lie back and smile, whether I had hair or not, whether I had eyebrows or not he’d smile at me exactly the same."
Lealiifano returned to rugby in July in the Super Rugby quarterfinal against the Hurricanes.
"When I reached that goal in Super Rugby, in the quarterfinal, just to run out and leave the last 10 or 11 months behind you and know that you get to do what you love again was an amazing feeling."
A move to Ulster followed, something he described as "an amazing experience". He's made 16 appearances so far, notching up 47 points. The Australian's last match will be on Sunday against Wasps in the Champions Cup, as he seeks to guide the team into the quarterfinals.
"I'm excited to get back to Super Rugby and the Brumbies and take back what I have learned and what I’ve improved in my game."
Video: Ulster Rugby