3,183 days is a long time to be striving for the same one goal, in the same one job, in the same one city. For many people, that’s far longer than they’ve spent working for the same company, let alone in the same position, and even for a professional Rugby player it’s become the exception rather than the norm.
Yet for 130-cap Brumbies prop Ben Alexander, a desire to win a Super Rugby title coupled with the opportunity to “rip in at training and hang out with your mates” means that nearly a decade on from his Super Rugby debut in Round 3, 2008, it remains “the best job in the world.”
“I love playing Rugby for the Brumbies and in Canberra, and every year as you get older you learn to appreciate it a lot more than when you were younger,” Alexander, who turned 32 earlier this month, tells RUPA.
“I’m really excited again for 2017; to me, it’s just another chance to win a title.
"Every day I get to go into the Brumbies and train with somebody like Josh Mann-Rea, who must surely be about to turn 39*, and I see the excitement on his face that he gets to do this for a living. I’m still excited, still keen, and ready for another big year.
“Every pre-season we start the year fresh and the excitement is there every year. (Head Coach) ‘Bernie’ Larkham and the recruiting staff have done a good job replacing a lot of the experience we have lost overseas, with Kyle Godwin, Chris Alcock and the Fainga’a twins coming in, and we’re really confident that we can fly under the radar a little bit and go well again next year.
“You can’t get too far ahead of yourself at the start of the pre-season and you’ve just got to knuckle down and give it your all and prepare for Round One, but we will train as hard as we can and see what we can do.”
Pre-season has a different feel to it this time around for Alexander though; instead of hanging around after training and spending time with his mates, heading to work at the pub he owns or even off to the golf course, he’s finding himself heading home to spend time with three very important ladies.
Ben’s wife Jennifer gave birth to identical twin girls Emma and Ivy in April of this year, culminating in the family being named as ambassadors for this Saturday’s Newborn November Family Fun Day.
The event aims to raise much-needed funds for the Canberra Hospital Foundation’s Newborn Intensive Care Unit, a part of the hospital that Ben and his family became familiar with when the twins were born.
“The girls were three and a half weeks early when they arrived in April,” Alexander explains. “When we initially found out early on in the pregnancy that we were having twins, we were put on notice that they were a higher risk classification and we needed to be conscious of the fact that they would likely be arriving early.”
So was there any apprehension when the first-time parents found out that they were going to be greeting two babies?
“It was excitement straight away when we found out we were having twins,” Ben says. “I had been joking around a lot beforehand that I’d love twins and Jen wasn’t too sure about it at the stage, but then we were both over the moon when we found out. Two months later, my wife’s cousin fell pregnant with identical twin boys, but there was no real history in our families of twins unless you go back quite a few generations.”
As predicted, Emma and Ivy did decide to arrive early, but Ben and Jen were prepared and thanks to the flexibility of Larkham and the Brumbies program he was able to be there to provide support throughout the entire process.
“We were on alert for three to four weeks leading into their arrival, and then a night or two after we played the Waratahs in Sydney Jen felt a bit more movement than usual and we went in for some scans at Canberra Hospital.
“The obstetrician said straight away to come back tomorrow and we’ll get these kids out, and even though the girls were very little (weighing 1.37kg and 1.55kg respectively) they were healthy and Jen was great as well.
“The whole experience of course had its stressful moments, but we’re very fortunate that my father is a paediatrician and was unbelievably reassuring throughout the whole process. He had full confidence in the support we were getting from the hospital and we felt right at home; in fact, the support that we received from Canberra Hospital throughout the whole pregnancy, with scans every six weeks, was unbelievable and we were so grateful for that, and how thorough everybody was.
“Bernie was awesome and when we were on standby he let me do what I needed to do; after that ‘Tahs game, he let me get back to Canberra rather than waiting for the team bus, for example, which meant I only had to spend one night away from Jen.
“After the girls were born, we were playing in New Zealand the following week, and I said that I didn’t feel comfortable leaving Jen and the girls just yet; Bernie was just so supportive. We’re very lucky at the Brumbies that we have such great front row depth, so it was easy for me to stay and it was great to be with my family at that time.
“As much as footy is important family always comes first, but we managed to balance the two out really well and for that I have to say thanks to the Brumbies.
“We weren’t able to take the girls home for quite some time and the first couple of weeks was quite tough, but all of the staff kept us in the loop. They spent two weeks in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit, and then they spent some time in the ‘fat farm’ putting on weight before we were able to bring them home after four weeks, Ivy first and then Emma a few days later.”
Seven months on and there’s been no looking back for Alexander, who is more than happy to give up his time this Saturday to help raise funds for the Intensive Care Unit.
“I’m home a lot more; my golf if suffering, and Scott Fardy can actually beat me now which he reminds me of quite frequently,” Alexander laughs, when I ask him how his life has changed. “I haven’t thought too much about it because you just get on with things, and it helps put life into perspective a bit which is what everybody says will be the case when you do have kids. All those clichés are true, and even though I sneak in a beer down at the bar every now and then I’m definitely not doing as many shifts as I used to either.”
The Newborn November Family Fun Day is this Saturday at Majura Park Shopping Centre, between 10am and 2pm. Ben, Jen, Emma and Ivy will all be there, and there will be heaps of fun kids’ activities including jumping castle, petting zoo, reptile display, fire trucks, face painting and so much more! Everything’s by gold coin donation, so if you’re in Canberra make sure you go down and say hi!
* Mann-Rea is actually only 35 and Bongo, if you’re reading this, please sing out for the right of reply…