By the time his professional rugby career ended at the end of the 2012 Super Rugby season, former Brumbies, Reds and Wallabies prop Guy Shepherdson struggled to make it through to the end of a training session.
A traditional front rower in build and with injuries taking their toll, the prospect of Shepherdson running 42.195 kilometres four years later was about as likely as the former tighthead slotting a drop goal from the halfway line, however that’s exactly what happened when he completed the Gold Coast Marathon last month.
“My body type doesn’t lend myself to inactivity, so I’m just doing whatever I can to keep the kilos off,” Shepherdson told RUPA. “It might surprise some people, but I’ve always enjoyed running long distances; it’s just not necessarily the best thing to do for yourself as a 115kg size person, but I’ve done it anyway.
“I did the Gold Coast Half Marathon last year and while I was pretty proud of myself that day, I was watching people finish the marathon and half of them looked so fresh like they’d just jumped off the couch; I saw them and thought I’d better give the full one a go, so I did.”
Shepherdson’s body was screaming for rest by the time he drew the curtain on a career which saw him play for his country 17 times, including the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France, and play 73 Super Rugby matches.
It’s hard to digest that Shepherdson was just 30 years of age when he retired, younger than current Wallabies front rowers Stephen Moore and Tatafu Polota-Nau and the same age as fellow tighthead Sekope Kepu, who has just signed a three-year deal with the Waratahs. Ultimately, however, he simply couldn’t continue to reach the lofty standards he had set for himself, and that others expected of him.
“I had some degenerative issues happening in my neck and back, which isn’t uncommon for front rowers, but especially in the last couple years it was a real battle getting right for every training session. Eventually, it just got to the point really where I couldn’t really compete at the level that was required.
“I guess now that I’m a couple years out from playing, my body has felt better and while it’s not repaired and the back and neck issues are still there, they’re certainly manageable.”
Transitioning into the next phase of your life after a professional sporting career can be unpredictable and quite challenging, particularly when it has ended a little earlier than expected. Shepherdson has managed to successfully navigate that change, and he credits that to coming to terms with his own Rugby mortality whilst at the Reds.
“I was still having a great time in 2012, but I could pretty much tell that there wasn’t much left in the body and I quite possibly should’ve retired a year or two earlier,” he explains. “I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to start working part time in the commercial side of the business at the Reds, which was a pretty good way for me to sort of transition into the real world and into an office and a professional environment, and then when I retired I stayed on full time.
“While the work itself was quite different and new to me, the subject matter itself was something I was still familiar with and passionate about. It was an excellent place to work, and the opportunity they provided me was fantastic however in time I got to a point where I really needed a break.
“In hindsight, I probably should’ve taken a bit of time off for myself after retiring as I finished my last week of training and then moved the very next week into a full time job. In the second half of 2013, I took six months off and did some travelling, and tried to figure out what I really wanted to do next.”
It was at that point that an opportunity presented itself in the shape of what was then a brand new venture, with Alliance Leasing starting up.
“I got an opportunity with Alliance Leasing, which is a family-owned company that specialises in novated leasing and salary packaging of cars. I was recruited through a friend of mine that was involved in the company, and as it’s grown in the last few months we’ve brought the head office into Brisbane as well which is good. I’m really enjoying being involved in a growing business with such a good culture.”
Shepherdson was always acutely aware of the challenges that transitioning into life after Rugby would present, and took advantage of offerings from RUPA to help prepare for the next phase of his life.
“Throughout the whole time I was playing, I’d like to think that I was really, really conscious of the future and that I made sure to take advantage of every opportunity offered to further my education. I did a couple of certificates and a business diploma that RUPA offers and also slowly but surely I finished my Bachelor in Mass Communications through the University of Southern Queensland in 2011.
“I wanted to make sure I finished playing with as many qualifications as I could possibly have, but while education was always important to me I never really had a clear and precise picture of what I wanted to do so I made sure to always keep busy away from Rugby.”
Shepherdson won two Super Rugby titles during his playing career, with the Brumbies in 2004 and then the Reds in 2011, and he’s watched from afar this year as three of his front row teammates from that Reds triumph have finished up at Ballymore and prepared to move on to pastures new.
Greg Holmes has is UK-bound with Exeter, Ben Daley is heading to the Western Force and Saia Fainga’a will return to the Brumbies in 2016, and Shepherdson paid tribute to the departing trio.
“Holmesy has been absolute stalwart of the game for an enormous amount of time and it’s just staggering the amount of longevity he has been able to achieve in his career,” Shepherdson said.
“To not only compete as long has he has, but to compete as well as he has, physically it’s just an amazing achievement. Certainly from my own experience and how my body struggled to handle the load, I’m just amazed at how he’s been able to absolutely excel right through to the end of his career and he’s just quite an amazing athlete.
“Ben Daley’s an incredible competitor. Knowing what he’s like to train against, I always used to make sure I’d avoid being in Daley’s group when it came to contact! Ben’s had pretty bad luck with injury but he’s a fantastic prop and I think the move to Perth, as much as he’s a Queensland guy and has done a lot of good things for Queensland Rugby, will benefit him and I think he’ll be a great asset to the Force so they’ll be lucky to have him.
“Finally to Saia, somebody who I’ve always thought of as a young guy! He’s a few years younger than me but we sort of grew up together playing at the Brumbies, but he’s now a veteran and in some ways I guess he’s returning home.
“I know the Canberra crowd’s going to really enjoy seeing his silly dreadlock hair and squealing voice every time he plays for the Brumbies, and I know he’ll go well; I look forward to seeing him in the Brumbies jersey again.”
Shepherdson and his partner have two twelve month old staffy puppies in Brisbane, and while he has no formal roles within Rugby anymore he’s enjoying getting along to watch the Reds when he’s able to.
“After going straight from playing to the working environment, I’m more a passionate supporter and spectator of Rugby than anything else,” he says. “I certainly miss playing, but one of things that is great when you stop is that your weekends become your own again!
“I make sure I get to a couple games a year and I certainly enjoy having a beer and watching the action on the field, and as opposed to my playing days I feel a lot better the day afterwards now too!”