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RapidChat: Lance Hohaia

Back in 2002, New Zealand native, Lance Hohaia, catapulted into his professional rugby career at the early age of 19. Since his retirement (nearly three years ago), his transition back into the "real world" has come with its own unique set of ups and downs. Thankfully for him, his journey back to Grand Rapids with his family is proving to be a positive one. 
 

Back in 2002, New Zealand native, Lance Hohaia, catapulted into his professional rugby career at the early age of 19. Since his retirement (nearly three years ago), his transition back into the "real world" has come with its own unique set of ups and downs. Thankfully for him, his journey back to Grand Rapids with his family is proving to be a positive one.
Rapid Growth: How did you feel when you first signed your contract with the New Zealand Warriors?

Lance Hohaia: I was thrilled, obviously. I was still in high school at the time and it was literally a dream come true for me. I remember feeling overwhelmed with all of the attention that [I] received; it was certainly a big change for this small town country boy. It was a very surreal experience thinking back now.

RG: What significance does the Rugby World Cup have in your career?

LH: Winning the World Cup is the highest honor in our sport. Every player and every rugby playing [in] every nation wants to win that trophy. It’s only held every four years, so it's similar to the Olympics where everyone has four years to plan and prepare for that opportunity. I was part of the team that won the Rugby League World Cup in 2008. Winning that particular tournament was easily the highest achievement in my sporting career.

RG: What was the life like off the field?

LH: I would compare the culture in rugby to being a member of a very large family. The most successful teams I've played on had a real family chemistry. We wouldn't want to let each other down and that trust transferred onto the playing field. We would spend more some with each other than we would our families on some occasions, so we had no choice but to rely on each other. We would train together, play together, party together… and deal with the trials and tribulations of life together.

RG: What have been some of the challenges you have faced transitioning out of your professional sports career?

Photo by Elizabeth TibbeLH: I think an athlete faces many challenges when they enter the “real world,” but some challenges are significantly harder than others. When I retired from my sporting career, I felt like I had lost my identity. Being an athlete was all I'd ever known for my entire adult life and then one day I wasn't an athlete anymore. It's often said that an athlete dies twice in their lifetime. The first being when they retire from their sport.

RG: What brought you across the globe to Grand Rapids, Michigan?

LH: My wife is American and a lot of her family is based here in Grand Rapids, so it made sense for us to settle here over living in New Zealand. It wasn't an easy decision to make, but my wife and I feel like it is the right thing for our family. New Zealand is a beautiful place and it will always be home for me, but the cost of living there is much higher and there are more opportunities here in the U.S for us and our boys.

RG: What are some cultural differences that you have faced between Grand Rapids and Hamilton, New Zealand?

LH: I haven't really struggled with any cultural differences. I’ve traveled to and from the U.S. a lot over the past ten years, so there isn't anything that has surprised me. There are actually a lot of similarities between where I grew up and Grand Rapids. The people here are friendly and optimistic about life; they love sports and the outdoors. It’s a very active community which all makes sense to me. I’m pretty happy living here.

RG: What lead you to assistant coaching the GVSU rugby team?

LH: I reached out to the head coach, John Mullet, via email. I told him about my background and said that I would love to get into coaching rugby. We met for a coffee the next week and he offered me the assistant coaching role on the spot. I've thoroughly enjoyed working with the team. We play throughout the fall, so rugby season is nearly upon us.

I also coach for a sporting company called Atavus Rugby & Football, who are based in Seattle. They are an official partner of USA Rugby and once a month I fly to different parts of the country to coach rugby at their USA Rugby Academy Camps and thats been really fun. I've really enjoyed giving back to the sport that gave me so much.

RG: Lastly... what's the cultural significance of the Haka dance?

LH: The Haka is a traditional war dance, or challenge, of the Maori people (indigenous people of New Zealand) that was performed by warriors before battle and usually against opposing tribes or foreign invaders. The Haka signifies strength and prowess and was used as a form of intimidation. All New Zealand sports teams have adopted the Haka as a pre-game ritual, but the success of the National Rugby team on a global scale has made it widely known around the world. It is a large part of our cultural identity and it pays respect to the history of country. It can also be used for special occasions including weddings, funerals, acknowledging great achievements, and welcoming distinguished guests.

Jenna Morton is the RapidChat correspondent for Rapid Growth Media.
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