The threats David Pocock's family experienced in Zimbabwe, driven from their family farm as their friends died around them, led to a fear of failure and a fanatical approach to his diet and exercise.
Pocock opened up about the childhood experiences that shaped the 26-year-old in an interview with Men's Health magazine, to be published on Monday.
The former Wallabies captain grew up on the family farm outside Gweru in the middle of Zimbabwe, where a set of goalposts in the backyard helped develop his passion for rugby union.
But in 2000, when Pocock was a 12-year-old, the Zimbabwean government announced it would forcibly take over white-owned farms and his family was told they had 90 days to leave.
That's when the violence started, and threats became a lot more than just that.
A close family friend, who lived 15 kilometres away, was shot dead in an ambush. His son lived, but was also shot nine times.
Pocock's parents decided it was time to go and as they packed, they learnt their neighbour had also been killed.
They moved to Brisbane with little more to their name than what they could pack in their suitcases.
But rather than hold any bitterness towards his time in Zimbabwe, and especially his departure, Pocock counts himself fortunate to have grown up there.
"I was incredibly lucky to grow up in Zimbabwe ... it was incredibly complex." he said.
"Look, growing up, Dad's mantra was, 'You reap what you sow'. You get out what you put in. Dad would tell us that all the time."
While the atrocities committed in Zimbabwe didn't manifest itself as hatred, it did emerge in the young Pocock in other ways.
Struggling to cope with the culture shock of shifting to Queensland, he channelled all his energies into sport and would do endless number of push-ups until he fell asleep exhausted.
He found Australia's sporting culture was the easiest way to fit in, but he became obsessive about it as well.
"It was a massive culture shock and I guess the main way I tried to make that transition – to make friends and settle in – was through sport. I channelled all my energies into sport," Pocock said.
"Sport was my coping mechanism. I developed a mindset where I simply didn't want to fail."
Everything he's gone through – including his two knee reconstructions – has also helped develop his compassion for his fellow man.
He was even willing to chain himself to mining equipment and get arrested just to make a point.
Pocock will face charges of allegedly entering enclosed land without lawful excuse, remaining on enclosed land without lawful excuse and hindering the working of mining equipment at Narrabri Local Court on Wednesday for his non-violent protest at the Maules Creek coalmine in November.
He's also set-up his own charity, Eightytwenty Vision, which is helping farming communities in his native Zimbabwe become self-sufficient.
Pocock is an active ambassador for gay and lesbian rights, refusing to get married until Australia's archaic same-sex marriage laws are changed.
"I think it's crucial to have something outside of rugby. By nature, sportsmen can be pretty selfish, and to a large extent you have to be," he said.
"You have to be focused on what you're doing to get results, but it gives you some perspective to have something that you're passionate about outside sport."