Retirement has been a bit weird to be honest with you – I spent close to twelve years in the NRL and to now come out on the other side and be injected back into the real world… it’s a bit of a shock to the system.

Thankfully for me, I’ve thrown myself into something I’m passionate about, being men’s fashion.

I’ve started my own clothing label called Earl’s Collection which I’ve been working on for the last six months and we launched not long ago so that’s sort of taken over my life.  

Since then, I haven’t really had time to think about training or footy – I’m too busy going out and meeting new people in the industry.

In a funny way it’s kind of like when you’re building camaraderie with your teammates at training. That’s one aspect of footy I really miss.

It’s been tough, there’s been times where I’ve struggled to fill my time in and I’ll sit there thinking about footy and everything that goes with the lifestyle.

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Even planning my own weekends has been really different because rugby league used to plan my weekends, so I’ve been spending that time learning new skills over the last six months.

I haven’t even been to the gym in that same time frame. I was actually down in Bondi the other day having a coffee and I saw Drew Mitchell from the Wallabies and he said to me, ‘How you going with training?’.

I said ‘Listen man, I haven’t been to the gym in five months’, I think it’s going to take for me to look in the mirror and think ‘Wow, what am I doing with myself’ and he said that’s exactly what happened to him.

It was a vanity thing where he looked in the mirror and he was like ‘Damn, I’m not looking that great’, so that’s how he got back into his training and built his motivation. I guess for me too, I’ve done it for so long it’s just nice to get a break away from it.

Plus I’ve got bad arthritis in my knees and I’ve got bad Achilles tendonitis so to give that a good rest and wake up in the morning and actually walk is pretty good.

It’s a massive change. I don’t think a lot of people realise how big of change rugby league players or professional sportsmen and women have when they stop.   

You put your whole life into dreaming about living your dream and my dream as a young kid was to play for the Kiwi’s and play in the NRL and I did that, I played for like 32 years of my life and I’ve popped out the other side, I’m like a newborn.

It’s kind of like I’ve got this time on my hands and what do I do with this time? I’m kind of quite lucky, I’ve thrown myself in the deep end to do my own clothing line which has always been a passion of mine so it doesn’t feel like work for me.

I’m really enjoying that and I’m learning new skills each day.

Six months ago I never really knew how to use a computer with Photoshop designing and stuff like that, so I’ve taught myself how to do that and it’s kind of a new lease of life.

Last year in the NRL I didn’t have a great year, I wasn’t getting played in the first grade and I spent a lot of time in the reserve grade, so it was really hard for me and I started to ask myself ‘Am I good enough?’, ‘What am I doing?’, I always knew I was good enough but it was just the way the cookie crumbled and I found a lot of time on my hands and that’s how I got into this whole life after footy of fashion designing and doing my own clothing line.

My mother always told me to chase my dreams, no matter how far out of reach they might seem.

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I grew up with a single Mum and I never really had much of a relationship with my father, I hadn’t spoken to him since I was twenty one.

Two years ago, unfortunately my father committed suicide.

I had just played in the Four Nations Final against Australia and I’d just walked off the field when my sister called, I didn’t answer because I thought she just wants to talk about the game. We had lost to Australia really badly and then she rang again, I was like this is not too good so I answered it because she doesn’t really ring twice in a row and that’s when she said ‘It’s Dad, he’s taken his own life’.   

I really regret not reaching out. Dad had depression for three years and I regret not reaching out and trying to fix things up with him.

When I was 20, I hadn’t spoken to my Dad in years and one day I just picked up the phone and gave him a call. I was coming home from my 21st and we caught up and it was the first time we’d caught up in maybe five years at the time. That happened to be the last time I spoke to him.

I didn’t know anything about his mental illness so none of that side of the family had reached out to me.

For me it was really hard to digest – I was like my father has passed away and with sort of the way it happened I kind of felt guilty in a sense, where I was like why has he taken his life?

It wasn’t until the funeral when I got back and found out that Dad had been depressed for three years and I also found out my grandfather had committed suicide and also my great-grandfather, three generations… it was a bit of an eye opener for me.

Looking back I’m kind of thankful that I had a bit of time in reserve grade last year because it was kind of a warning to me to get my life in order and that I’m coming to the end of my career.

I was going to be thrown into this new life and it’s going to be hard on me and I could go two ways about it. I can sit there and think about what I used to have and well and truly become depressed, which has happened to a lot of people that have transitioned to the real world from professional sports, because you have something so great and which you love so badly and all of a sudden it’s taken away from you or I could knuckle down, find what I’m passionate about and throw myself in the deep end.

Fortunately for me it was the latter, I had a lot of support but at the same time a lot of people looked at me sideways and thought ‘What, you’re going to retire and do clothing?’, and it’s like well I’m not doing clothing, I’m doing something that I love. And I went down that route and established Earl’s Collection. My middle name is Earl and my Dad’s middle name was Earl too, he was quite a trendy guy and while I never had a relationship with him when I was younger, I’m taking him on this journey now.

Following his passing, I kind of adopted the motto ‘life’s too short’ and ‘don’t regret anything’. Last year, when I was in the reserve grade, I had all this time on my hands, I wan’t enjoying it, I wasn’t enjoying life, I wasn’t enjoying my dream and when it becomes like that it becomes a job and that’s why I sort of decided to retire.

It wasn’t because I didn’t feel like I was good enough anymore, I knew I was still good enough but I was sick of living life unhappy. Plus I’ve always wanted to do a clothing business so I kind of bit the bullet and thought bugger it you know what, I’m unhappy doing this why can’t I live life happy.

The money is nice in rugby league but at the end of the day money doesn’t make me happy, it can give you a comfortable lifestyle but it doesn’t make me wake up each day. I want to wake up happy each day and I learnt that with my Dad’s stuff. Life’s too short to go to bed with anxiety at night, wondering what’s going to happen tomorrow. A lot of that anxiety is built up because of professional sports, because you’re not in control of what happens, you’re in control of yourself but you’re not in control of the team.

I’d played league for so long and I’d given the sport so much, I kind of felt that loyalty was starting to wear thin on me… just with the sort of how I was treated last year.

I just thought life’s too short to be feeling like this, I was going to bed at night with anxiety, I was embarrassed to tell my family that I was playing reserve grade because I hadn’t played reserve grade in ten years. You walk down the street and people would be like ‘Oh, you’re playing reserve grade’, and it’s not because you’re too proud but because you hold yourself to such a high standard.

You play reserve grade and it’s a bit of a shock but you’re hungry at the start to get back into the first grade. But then you see things aren’t changing, our first grade team was losing and they weren’t picking any guys from the reserve grade. I understand they wanted to go with youth but it’s like a year ago I was playing for my country and now I’m playing reserve grade, it’s kind of hard to get up for games and I kind of lost the passion.

I found after that I was getting anxious and stuff like that, I’ve kind of lost that all now where I’m very happy within my life and I’m very happy within myself. I might not be a sports star anymore but I’m just trying to make something out of my life now.

I’ve found that fire again and I’m learning stuff everyday and I’m so happy with the reaction to it. We’re a new brand and your first collection is always going to be your toughest.

It all comes back to how I live my life with no regrets.