West Coast ruckman Nic Naitanui has released his own children’s book ‘Little Nic’s Big Day’ to promote the message of diversity, particularly in schools. Naitanui spoke to aflplayers.com.au about the book launch, his off-season and his hope of getting back to his very best form.
Ben Guthrie: Nic, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with us. Celebrating diversity is a clear theme that is explored throughout the book. How important is it to you that you’re able to spread that message?
Nic Naitanui: Diversity played a massive role in my life and my introduction into school life in particular. The book touches on certain themes from that respect and accepting each other’s differences. There’s a kid with a prosthetic leg, someone who speaks sign language, people eating different foods, people of different cultures and skin colours. There’s also an example where there are two Mums picking up their son from school. That’s the current landscape at schools these days. It comes down to celebrating people’s differences and that’s incredibly important to me.
BG: You’ve targeted the book at children in particular. Why do you want to have an impact among school-age kids?
NN: I think kids are naturally born for seeing people for who they are. They don’t tend to look at skin colour or types of hair or anything like that initially. As much as it is for the children, it’s also to educate the parents and the teachers. Kids are going to shape and mold the world when they’re older so it makes sense to go to the younger age group and target them. It’s the way I wanted to do it. As players you spend a lot of time at appearances and in schools and half the time you’re reading books to kids. So to have my own book that I’m able to read to kids is something that’s pretty special as well.
BG: You clearly drew on your own personal experiences in the book. How proud are you of what you were able to put that down on paper?
NN: School, for me, at times was a struggle because I did look different and I didn’t really fit into the norm. I was a bit shy of the fact that I was different. I found my way of being accepted was through football. I excelled at sport and in football and that helped me make friends. For me, writing the book was a way of showing kids that it’s OK if you want to paint, dance and do ballet or enjoy doing other things to their friends at school. I’m trying to break down those barriers.
BG: You were able to pay tribute to your late Mum, Ateca, with the themes you explored throughout the book. That must have been a really nice way for you to carry on her legacy…
NN: The morals and values that I have that are brought up in the book stem from my Mum and what she’s taught me. It was a way to pay tribute to my Mum as well and incorporate her throughout the book. She was the one that saw some of the struggles that I had at school, especially in my early days. It was a nice way to fittingly put her in there and promote some of my Fijian culture as well. It’s something that I’m very privileged and proud to have done.
BG: How’s your body feeling ahead of the 2020 season? Were you able to run much in your off-season break?
NN: I’ve been able to be pretty consistent with my running. I’m used to going under the knife at the start of every year, so to not have to have surgery feels strange but it feels really good at the same time. Usually I’m restricted for the early part of pre-season and then I’m playing catch up throughout the year. I get to start day one and I get to do everything that everyone else does which is a big positive for me.
BG: You turn 30 next year. Do you think you’ll have to manage your body throughout the latter stages of your career after the two knee reconstructions?
NN: Doing two knees means you’re a compromised athlete, but I do enough training and work that gives me enough confidence in my body. There’s some things that I’m trialling that I’m hoping might better me. But we have a good medical team at West Coast. My knees don’t really bother me now and I don’t really worry about them. But facts are facts. If you’ve done one or two knees you’re at a higher risk of injury. It’s never anything I really worry about going into training or games. Once I’m out there I go full on.
BG: You played limited game time when you returned late last season and was able still able to make an impact in the five games you played. Do you think your game time will increase throughout 2020?
NN: I think the game time will increase. The only real reason I went down that path is because I missed a fair chunk of pre-season with both knees. Coming into the second half of the year, it’s hard to mimic the intensity of playing games at training. It was probably more of a risk management thing. I could potentially play double that amount, but having another ruckman there (Tom Hickey) helps because then I can play less game time and still have an impact. I’ll look for it to increase next year, but it all depends on the next little building block for me and how the pre-season goes.
BG: How excited are you to play with Tim Kelly, whom you acquired during the player exchange period from Geelong, next year?
NN: I was excited when he chose us because he could have easily gone down to the ‘purple guys’ down the road (laughs). He’s happy and his family’s happy. I had dinner with them when he came back home to Perth and they seem more comfortable now. Hopefully that translates onto the footy field, and he’s more relaxed and he plays even better footy if that’s possible@ He’s going to complement our midfiled really well.
BG: Thanks for your time Nic and good luck with promoting the book.
NN: Thanks very much Ben.
You can purchase Nic’s book here.