Just another day in paradise to help me refocus and recover


ON RUGBY:An athlete needs to have a recovery plan to be in peak physical and mental condition. Without recovery in the form of nutrition, sleep and relaxation an athlete’s performance will decline. You cannot overwork, you can only under recover.

After more than 20 years in professional sport I believe that once or twice a year all of us need to withdraw from our daily routine to restore our energy and regenerate enthusiasm.We all need to find the time to recover from life.

When I am in Australia, at this time each year I go UTC – Up The Coast. This is my sanctuary and my annual recovery plan. I return to the same village every year. There are no casinos or restaurants. There is a very unusual building ordinance that forbids any building above two storeys, so joyously there are no high rise apartments. The Costa del Brava it is not.

It is a paradise. There is a golden pristine beach and behind it a large saltwater lagoon. The gum tree forests of the National Park that surrounds the town pump out fresh eucalyptus-scented air and shelter a myriad of wildlife.

Here the Wallabies don’t play rugby. The beautiful creatures recline under the shade of the gum trees where the forest meets the village. They pass the heat of the day sleeping in the shade. The mothers allow their Joeys to leave the pouch and hop cautiously about.

If I come too close, the Joeys literally dive for their mothers’ pouch. The baby miraculously disappears inside the mother and at the same instant the mob is bounding for the safety of the trees. Their camouflage is so complete they vanish within metres of entering the forest’s protection.

No gentle tweeting

Each morning I wake to the kookaburra’s raucous call. There are no gentle tweeting birds here. They are loud in colour and sound. The Eastern Rosellas are brilliant green and red. They squawk and squabble in flocks that devour the blossom from the native wattle.

I have a Stand Up and Paddle board, known as a SUP. It does what is says on the tin. It follows the ancient Hawaiian tradition of a very large surfboard on which you stand and propel yourself with a long-handled paddle. It is used to catch waves in the surf but it is equally efficient in cruising the waters of the tidal lagoons.

I paddle into the crystal clear water of the estuary on the incoming tide. Within minutes I cannot see a man-made structure or another human. A stingray silently glides under my board using its sonar to sound out hidden crabs in the sand. I make sure my balance is perfect as I watch its lethal barbed tail slide safely across the sand bar.

The fish are large and plentiful. At first I can only see their dark shadows on the golden sands of the bottom. Their camouflage makes them almost invisible. I have to adjust my vision to find the owner of the black silhouette. I am motionless, concentrating on finding the fish. My board is silent on the still waters of the lagoon. The cicadas are drumming out their noisy bush harmony.

Alone,I am floating on the shimmering waters on the edge of the south Pacific and the troubles of my world outside do not exist. It is a hot, sunny, beautiful and a peaceful nirvana.

Giant talons

A blur of colour and the sound of thrashing air by giant wings shatters my relaxation. A giant sea eagle with a deep maroon coloured body and a snowy white head has plucked a fish from the lagoon no more than two metres from my board. The only creature on the planet who is more shocked than me at the eagle’s appearance is the unfortunate fish who has been skewered on the giant talons. Beneath the giant bird, the fish’s last vision of life is of high above the lagoon as the eagle finds a suitable tree to have its shocked fish lunch.

At night for companionship I have my kids, who have had their mobile phones confiscated for the duration of the holiday, and the wondrous glory of the everlasting stars.

On a moonless summer’s evening the Milky Way truly shimmers. I have a few days left in paradise until I have to return to my responsibilities. It is impossible to not feel refreshed and reinvigorated after standing so close to the beauty of nature. The salt water seems to cleanse my mind and although the cares and worries remain, somehow I feel my resilience strengthened to take on the tribulations life will throw at me in the months ahead.

I am delighted Rob, Luke and Brian have made safe returns for Leinster. I am glad to hear Ulster and Connacht had good wins. But you must forgive me for not talking about rugby this week, because just for a few days, I have to focus on myself and recover. My new year wish for all of you is that you get some time in 2013 to do exactly the same thing for yourself.

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