19 October 2019

“I was terrified I wouldn’t remember my girls”

Mo Bro Anthony Fainga'a's Story
Men's Health | Mental Health | Video
4 MIN READ
 

With the Rugby World Cup in full swing, 32-year-old Anthony Fainga'a opens up on living up to his late father’s expectations, concussion and his heart-breaking decision to pull the pin on his rugby career.
 
During the 2011 Rugby World Cup in Wellington, Anthony was taken from the field after losing consciousness for more than a minute.
 
It would not be the worst, or the last head knock that he suffered. The continuous knocks left Anthony with severe symptoms that he just couldn’t shake - blurred vision, a sore neck, fatigue – to the point where Fainga’a thought he might be suffering from a brain tumour.
 
Anthony had post-concussion syndrome - a mild form of traumatic brain injury. But it wasn’t until 2019 that he made the decision to put his health first, stepping away from the game in order to be there for his wife, Stephanie, and two daughters Malia and Gia.
 
“After playing in Japan for three seasons, I had opportunities to continue playing rugby but ultimately my girls, and my family came first,” he said. “Looking back now, I know I made the right call.”

 
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Anthony FAInga'a with daughters MALIA & GIA
 

Rugby is an enormous part of life for the Fainga’a family, which is why Anthony’s decision to leave his career was so difficult. His father, Saia Fainga’a Snr, lived and breathed the sport, and instilled that same passion in all of his boys – including Anthony and his twin brother Saia Jnr.
 
In 2017, Saia Snr passed away unexpectedly after being bitten by a mosquito in Tonga. After developing into septicaemia, Saia Snr’s organs began started shutting down while in hospital.
 
“Dad was always very passionate about hard work and resilience,” he said. “I thought he was invincible. He didn't want to call us to tell us he was sick because he just wanted us to play well.
 
“He was a big advocate of pushing through injuries in order to keep your spot on the team, no matter what. I wanted to make him proud, and it was a factor in why I had a ‘harden up’ mentality in regard to my health for so long.”
 
Fainga’a has now moved back to Brisbane with his family and is working in the bond and property insurance industry. Although he says it has been a big adjustment, Anthony is focused on looking after himself in his retirement.
 
“At the end of the day, I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to remember my girls. I didn’t want their childhood taken away from me.”
 
Movember’s Global Director of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Brendan Maher said it was important for men not to bottle things up, and to take action for their health if they had a mental or physical health concern.  
 
“It’s a great credit to Anthony that he’s been able to be so open and honest in speaking up - allowing him to be there for his family as a husband, father and brother.”
 
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