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Wallabies hopeful Nathan Charles says life-limiting disease will never define his achievements

Debutant Wallabies hooker Nathan Charles does not use Cystic Fibrosis as an excuse.

Debutant Wallabies hooker Nathan Charles does not use Cystic Fibrosis as an excuse. Photo: Getty Images

Nathan Charles hates a sob story.

Of the many boring things professional athletes do in their downtime, you will never find him watching reality television.

"I hate The Voice. Everyone's got a sob story and that makes my blood boil. I really hate that," Charles says.

"I want to get somewhere and achieve something based on my performance and my ability as a rugby player, rather than someone going 'it would be a great story if he did this'."

Thing is, Nathan Charles is a great story.

The Wallabies hooker, who is poised to make his Test debut when he starts on the bench against France in Melbourne on Saturday, has a genetic disease that limits life expectancy to 38 years.

He is the only athlete with the condition in the world who is playing a professional contact sport. He has defied the odds every day of his 25 years. He just doesn't want you to take it into account on Saturday night.

"The thing I want to be judged on is my performance of a weekend rather than the disease I carry," Charles says.

"Mum and dad brought me up to set my goals high and [if] you want it, you have to go out and work your arse off to get it.

"I don't see why myself, or anyone else, should have limitations on what they can achieve in life because I reckon the only thing stopping you is yourself."

That and a knee injury, which brought the Western Force rake's career to a halt last year. Charles now credits the 11-month break from rugby as the period that unlocked his game.

An Australian Schoolboy in 2006, and member of Wallabies training squads in 2010 and 2011, Charles has taken his game to the next level since his return.

"It's a mental thing more than anything, believing I can be more dominant," he says. "Not having a care for what the body has to go through, just doing it, going as hard as you can for as long as you can."

A full season under a World Cup-winning former Test hooker, Force coach Michael Foley, has also had an impact.

Foley paid his protege the ultimate compliment. He treated Charles as a young hooker who wasn't living up to his potential, rather than one who had already exceeded expectations to be playing professional rugby in the first place.

"He said to me 'I am judging you as a Test hooker not a Super Rugby hooker' so he was quite hard on me, which I think has been fantastic," Charles says.

"I've really enjoyed that and it's pushed me to the next level and helped me understand what's involved [in] Test rugby."

Charles has been talking a lot about cystic fibrosis these past few weeks and the world has heard his story.

He is comfortable talking about the disease. He takes upwards of 20 pills each day, is mindful of hygiene – "a simple cold can turn into quite a complicated chest infection" – but believes exercise is the best thing to control the sticky mucus build-up in his lungs and airways, which is the hallmark of cystic fibrosis.

But even a few years ago, Charles was keeping his condition a confidential matter between his doctor and family. His early coaches and teammates had no idea.

"When I first started playing professional rugby, I didn't talk about it ... I didn't want to be seen as 'that' person," he says.

"I still remember the first time I spoke openly about it to the Brumbies boys [Charles was in the Brumbies Academy in 2009]. I got to the first line and actually started crying, I couldn't talk about it. It took a while to get used to that.

"Once I started playing regularly in Super Rugby, I felt more comfortable talking about it, because I felt like I'd achieved something on my own."

If Charles packs down with his teammates on Saturday he will, as Test coach Ewen McKenzie said this week, have defied science and logic to do so.

He will not, however, have made it to Etihad Stadium because he was someone else's sob story.

"Inspiring story? Sure. It's very humbling to know that it does inspire people to achieve more and I'm extremely proud of that," he says. "But apart from that ... I want to look back and know that I did it all of my own accord, because I've worked hard to get here."

HuffPost Australia

Rugby World Cup 2015

Round 1
Sat, 19 SepTimes shown AEST
ENG 35vs FJI 11 Report Stats
TGA 10vs GEO 17 Report Stats
IRE 50vs CAN 7 Report Stats
Sun, 20 SepTimes shown AEST
SAF 32vs JPN 34 Report Stats
FRA 32vs ITA 10 Report Stats
SAM 25vs USA 16 Report Stats
WAL 54vs URU 9 Report Stats
Mon, 21 SepTimes shown AEST
NZL 26vs ARG 16 Report Stats
Wed, 23 SepTimes shown AEST
SCO 45vs JPN 10 Report Stats
Thu, 24 SepTimes shown AEST
AUS 28vs FJI 13 Report Stats
FRA 38vs ROM 11 Report Stats
Fri, 25 SepTimes shown AEST
NZL 58vs NAM 14 Report Stats
Sat, 26 SepTimes shown AEST
ARG 54vs GEO 9 Report Stats
ITA 23vs CAN 18 Report Stats
Sun, 27 SepTimes shown AEST
SAF 46vs SAM 6 Report Stats
ENG 25vs WAL 28 Report Stats
AUS 65vs URU 3 Report Stats
SCO 39vs USA 16 Report Stats
Mon, 28 SepTimes shown AEST
IRE 44vs ROM 10 Report Stats
Wed, 30 SepTimes shown AEST
TGA 35vs NAM 21 Report Stats
Fri, 02 OctTimes shown AEST
WAL 23vs FJI 13 Report Stats
FRA 41vs CAN 18 Report Stats
Sat, 03 OctTimes shown AEST
NZL 43vs GEO 10 Report Stats
SAM 5vs JPN 26 Report Stats
Sun, 04 OctTimes shown AEST
SAF 34vs SCO 16 Report Stats
ENG 13vs AUS 33 Report Stats
Mon, 05 OctTimes shown AEDT
ARG 45vs TGA 16 Report Stats
IRE 16vs ITA 9 Report Stats
Wed, 07 OctTimes shown AEDT
CAN 15vs ROM 17 Report Stats
FJI 47vs URU 15 Report Stats
Thu, 08 OctTimes shown AEDT
SAF 64vs USA 0 Report Stats
NAM 16vs GEO 17 Stats
Sat, 10 OctTimes shown AEDT
NZL 47vs TGA 9 Report Stats
Sun, 11 OctTimes shown AEDT
SAM 33vs SCO 36 Report Stats
AUS 15vs WAL 6 Report Stats
ENG 60vs URU 3 Stats
ARG 64vs NAM 19 Report Stats
Mon, 12 OctTimes shown AEDT
ITA 32vs ROM 22 Report Stats
FRA 9vs IRE 24 Report Stats
USA 18vs JPN 28 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Sun, 18 OctTimes shown AEDT
SAF 23vs WAL 19 Stats
NZL 62vs FRA 13 Report Stats
IRE 20vs ARG 43 Report Stats
Mon, 19 OctTimes shown AEDT
AUS 35vs SCO 34 Stats
Sun, 25 OctTimes shown AEDT
SAF 18vs NZL 20 Stats
Mon, 26 OctTimes shown AEDT
ARG 15vs AUS 29 Stats
Sat, 31 OctTimes shown AEDT
SAF 24vs ARG 13 Stats
Sun, 01 NovTimes shown AEDT
NZL 34vs AUS 17 Stats
View All Fixtures
Rugby World Cup 2015
Team P W L D +/- Pts
Australia 4 4 0 0 106 17
Wales 4 3 1 0 49 13
England 4 2 2 0 58 11
Fiji 4 1 3 0 -17 5
Uruguay 4 0 4 0 -196 0
View all
Rugby World Cup 2015
Team P W L D +/- Pts
South Africa 4 3 1 0 120 16
Scotland 4 3 1 0 43 14
Japan 4 3 1 0 -2 12
Samoa 4 1 3 0 -55 6
USA 4 0 4 0 -106 0
View all
Rugby World Cup 2015
Team P W L D +/- Pts
New Zealand 4 4 0 0 125 19
Argentina 4 3 1 0 109 15
Georgia 4 2 2 0 -70 8
Tonga 4 1 3 0 -60 6
Namibia 4 0 4 0 -104 1
View all
Rugby World Cup 2015
Team P W L D +/- Pts
Ireland 4 4 0 0 99 18
France 4 3 1 0 57 14
Italy 4 2 2 0 -14 10
Romania 4 1 3 0 -69 4
Canada 4 0 4 0 -73 2
View all

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