Be more than a figure, be an example. -Dr. Steve Maraboli
Heroes. They come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes heroes are sports players. Living in America I watched countless athletes rise to hero status because of their athleticism yet not live up to a hero status in a way I would want my son to emulate. There are great ones out there but they weren’t always accessible. Living in New Zealand they are very accessible some because the country is small. Mostly they are accessible because with rugby especially, they realise the kids look up to them. They were the bright eyed kids not so long ago looking at the big guys in all black. The teams make it a part of their job to have face time with the fans. I love that. I love their graciousness. I love that I hear story after story of someone bumping into a rugby player and them being kind and lovely.
This weekend was no exception. The All Blacks were in our city for their last home game of the year. The city was abuzz with All Black fever and my son and I jumped in with both feet. We headed to a signing at our local All Black store, my son kitted out in his All Black clothes looking like a mini player ready to run on the field. He has some All Black chocolate that he loves (a round chocolate coin covered in All Black logos). He said to me the night before that the All Blacks we were going to see would love his chocolate and asked to share them. These players are two of his most favourite. He often pretends to be them and we often use their names to get him to do things: Ben Smith eats his dinner, Ma’a picks up his toys, Ben goes to sleep. So for my son this was his greatest commodity and he wanted to share them with his heroes. He’s two but the kid can follow the game of rugby and spot players better than a lot of adults.
I, of course, let him bring his gift for them and placed them in his had as we approached the signing table. He handed them his ball to sign and a chocolate each. With humility and a smile they graciously took it with a huge thank you. Ma’a asked him with a twinkle in his eye if there was chocolate inside. My son was so happy to say yes! Ben Smith looked at my son with a huge genuine smile and said thank you for the chocolate. These guys sign 1000’s of autographs. See hundreds of kids and adults the day before their games yet they made my son feel special. These players are classy on and off the field. They do their job with excellence in games but they are well aware of their other job: the object of thousands of little eyes on them looking for heroes. My son was pretty lucky that day because everyone fell in love with him and he got asked to take a picture for the paper with Ma’a Nonu. It was brilliant. My son is very silly but all serious when it comes to rugby, so he took his first wee job of All Black photo shoots with that same seriousness.
We also were beyond blessed to actually attend the game for free. The tickets are pricey but we were gifted two tickets so my son could see his heroes live and in action. He intensely listened to the anthem, focused on the Hakka and watched every play picking out his heroes on the field and was one of the loudest cheers in the full stadium. It was like a dream come true for him.
After the signing my son looked up at me in a moment of vulnerability and said, “They liked my chocolate momma.” They did. And he knew it. I love the entire All Black/rugby culture in New Zealand. I love that my son is seeing heroes that respect people and heroes that treat people with love. I love that my son has heroes that know they are looked up to and idolised yet choose to stay humble. Heroes come in all shapes and sizes but my son’s heroes are well deserved today. Thank you Ma’a Nonu and Ben Smith for being a small boy’s heroes and showing him how to relate to people.