Last year, when my grandmother was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given only weeks to live, she advised me to quit while I was ahead with my rugby.
A few weeks later, I was able to tell her that I did, right before she died.
She never wanted me to play rugby as a child (let alone play professionally), and for her to know I made it to the end of my career in "one piece" made her smile.
Grandma was the matriarch our of family, and with both my parents working long hours, I spent a fair whack of my childhood under her care.
So with her life and my rugby career both ending within weeks, it's fair to say that it knocked me for six. Two of the things I'd grown to depend on most were no longer in my life.
Luckily, right before my grandmother passed, a mate of mine suggested that I come for a run with him.
We attended the Burley Griffin parkrun on a fresh Saturday morning, and I was hooked!
I ran/walked my way to a 25:01, and 11 months later my PB is now at 19:23, and I've only missed a couple of parkruns since (forgot my barcode once! #DFYB).
As a young fella growing up, exercising and competing on the football field every Saturday had become a huge part of my life.
I'm so grateful that I've found that same love I had for rugby, in running. And I have my mates and parkrun to thank for that!
Replacing the structure, routine and mateship of team sports, is one of the great challenges all professional athletes face when they retire.
Throw in no longer getting paid to exercise with your mates, makes the transition to retirement tough.
Tackling the weekly goal of improving my 5km time helped keep me active during the most difficult patch of my life.
Getting that regular hit of endorphins not only helped me process the end of my career, but to deal with the grief of losing someone I loved.
I believe that it's one of life's great gifts to find a sport that you love. Exercising for exercise sake can be tough, but to find a sport that you truly love AND gets you to exercise is a gift.
Whether it be running, rugby, golf or surfing enjoying exercise is life long habit that will hold you in good stead, especially during the tough times.
Many friends, and a few former Brumbies teammates in Pat McCabe, Peter Kimlin, Robbie Abel, Frankie Fainifo and Jerry Yanuyanutawa (always late due to his Fijian watch) have joined along for a trot, and during the last year it's been incredible to watch parkrun grow.
I still haven't been able to convince fellow front-rower Daniel Palmer it's worth the energy expenditure ... yet.
Parkrun has nearly 4 million runners and holds nearly 2000 weekly events in 21 countries.
Thousands of volunteers give up their Saturday morning to ensure parkrun is free, runs smoothly, and everyone gets their weekend off to the best start possible.
Founder Paul Sinot-Hewitt CBE said parkrun's mission was helping create a "healthier, happier planet", a mission I believe is worthy of support.
Canberra has seven parkruns, with an eighth soon to open in Moncrieff. An incredible stat for our humble bush capital!
For more information please go to parkrun.com.au or the parkrun Australia Facebook page.
As I approach my 50th parkrun, I look back and I'm overwhelmingly grateful to the parkrun community for welcoming me, and to my friends and family who joined me during that tough time. I will never forget it.
- Ben Alexander played 154 games for the Brumbies and 72 Tests for the Wallabies. An original version of his blog was posted on the parkrun website.
PROP ON THE JOG
Ben Alexander's parkrun progression
August 11, 2018: 25:01
September 9, 2018: 22:25
November 24, 2018: 21:40
December 25, 2018: 20:32
February 16, 2019: 20:07
May 18, 2019: 19:23