WA News Celebrity Profiles Life After the Siren
Life After the Siren
Written by Peter McClelland
Monday, 28 August 2017

25082017-Hodgson-Matt-3-July 17Playing for the Wallabies and captaining Western Force means putting your body on the line every time you run onto the field. Matt Hodgson, who hung up his rugby boots last month, spoke to Medical Forum about the collateral damage of elite sport, juggling the often-tricky transition to retirement and the problematic future of the club itself.

“I don’t think it’ll be the referee’s final whistle when it hits home that it’s all over. It’ll be when the boys go back into pre-season training next year. Probably even more so when I turn up at the first game and have to sit in the stands. I’ll certainly be feeling it then!”

“And as for physical problems after a pretty torrid career, it’s already a bit tricky on cold winter mornings. I’m actually booked in for 10 surgical procedures at the end of the season and they’ll do a full body scan as well. It’s important to document them now because we have a three-year contractual agreement with Australian Rugby that ensures that any physical issues will be addressed.”

“We all put things off while we’re playing, so I’m looking forward to getting my body back into good shape. I certainly don’t want to wake up in five years time and not be able to play with my kids.”

Back to the gym

That is probably unlikely because Matt’s second career is in the gym and fitness sector. He and his wife now own three gyms, with the latest one recently opening in Subiaco.

“We’re pretty excited about this next stage in our lives, and it’s wonderful that we’re going into business together. Physical fitness is a strong sector and we’re focusing on a niche area where people are time-poor and need guidance to structure their exercise program.”

“It also links in nicely with my commitment to improving mental health in our community.”

The rugby world was rocked earlier this year when Dan Vickerman, long-serving Wallaby and teammate of Matt’s, committed suicide at the age of 37.

“Dan’s tragic death was a shock to all of us. There had been signs that he was struggling with depression and he’d actually spoken to some friends about the problems he was having. Nonetheless, I had lunch with him not long before he died and I didn’t see any obvious signs of what was to come.”

“Sadly, most people are good at concealing just how much they’re suffering.”

Speaking up about depression

“My own father struggled with depression after having a stroke, so this issue is close to my heart. I’m involved with the non-profit charity LIVIN, which aims to remove the stigma associated with mental illness and raise awareness regarding suicide prevention.”

“The core of the LIVIN message is, ‘It Ain’t Weak to Speak’.”

“These issues have certainly brought home to me the importance of a strong and loving family. If I hadn’t had that support, I think I’d have stepped away from rugby a lot earlier because it just makes it so much easier to share things and talk about life’s problems.”

“And once you have children the focus falls very much on them, which is a good thing.”

Matt speaks about some of the high-points in a long career, and has a few interesting things to say regarding the game of rugby more broadly.

“I’ll always cherish the memory of running out for my first Force game to a sea of blue in the crowd, and captaining the Wallabies against the Barbarians was a big thrill. I guess a lot more memories will come flooding back when I’m talking with family and friends.”

“Every game I’ve ever played has had its highs and lows.”25082017-Hodgson-Matt-July 17

Make rugby entertaining

“The code itself is going through an interesting stage. At the elite level it’s highly competitive but we also have to remember that a game of rugby, particularly at international level, is also supposed to be entertaining. And it’s that very aspect that allows us to market ourselves as professional athletes.”

“I play in the front row of the scrum, and I’m all for seeing more running rugby and fewer endless resetting of two huge packs of brawny footballers often resulting in a time-consuming penalty kick.”

“We definitely need to think about ways to increase crowd numbers and perhaps, as they do in the AFL, trial some rule changes in the pre-season.”

Matt is leaving rugby behind at an uncertain time at the local level. One team will be axed from the Super Rugby franchise in 2018, and Western Force has been named by the ARU as that club.

“All this uncertainty has been frustrating. One day you think you’re safe and the next it doesn’t look so promising. We’ve been living in limbo this season and there have been times when we’ve been more concerned about the club’s survival than what’s happening on the field.”

“It’s one of the hardest things to know when the time is right to step away from a professional sporting career. I slowly phased out of the captaincy this year and that was made a lot easier because of our wonderful playing group.”

“I’m very lucky, a wonderful family, a great football career and an exciting future ahead.”