Candice Warner fascinates me. I just can't understand how "who she is" is so closely aligned to who she's married to. With all due respect to her husband David, who, regardless of your opinion of him, is, statistically, a pretty decent cricketer, Candice is so much more than a sportsman's wife.
She's so much more than a mother of three young daughters.
So much more than a young single woman who took an opportunity 16 years ago to pash rugby league star Sonny Bill Williams in a hotel toilet. (And I don't believe you for a minute if you say you wouldn't have taken the same chance at 22.)
Just who is Candice Warner? I think that's something she's still trying to figure out herself. At 38, she's settling into her own identity. Her daughters, Ivy, eight, Indi, seven, and Isla, three are a little more hands-off. She's working for Fox Sports as a panellist on The Back Page and has a few regular radio gigs.
In 2020, she was a contestant on the Seven Network's reality series SAS Australia.
It was during this show, in mid November of that year, that I found myself yelling at the television.
Candice was being interrogated by the show's directing staff, former British SAS officers Ant Middleton and Jason Fox.
It was a tactic used by the staff to unsettle the recruits, as such, asking them questions about their past, picking at their vulnerabilities, finding ways to get under their skin.
They were doing a good job on Warner.
They got her talking about the 2018 incident in South Africa where her husband David was accused of ball-tampering during a Test match and subsequently given a 12-month ban from all international and domestic cricket.
She talked about the repercussions of the 2007 Williams scandal, which became known as the "toilet tryst" in the press, and how that affected her family.
Middleton and Fox asked her why she was always so quick to go on the defensive.
"It's all I've ever known," she said during the interview.
"I'm always the one who supports everyone else ... it gives me great pleasure to do everything for my husband and my kids ... but it's tiring ... I don't know any other way."
How many of us, us mothers, feel that way? I know I have. Our identity can sometimes become skewed.
I wanted Candice to remember who she was.
Remember that 14-year-old-girl who was competing against grown women on the professional Ironwoman circuit.
Remember that young woman who trained for long hours and went on to win three world championships.
Remember that woman who picked herself up after broken relationships and poor decisions, and kept on moving forward.
Remember who she was before she was "just" someone's wife and mother.
"Had I not had that interview and my time on that show, I don't think I could have written my story," she says, of her autobiography, Running Strong.
"I don't think I would have been able to bare myself in the way I've been able to. In that moment I became a completely different person."
She acknowledges that mothers in particular can lose a "sense of self" when they're immersed in parenting.
She admits that one of the hardest things about filming SAS Australia was being away from her daughters - "they're a real weakness of mine" - but having a goal to train for, a physical goal, helped her get in touch with the athlete she once was.
And she liked that.
She was controversially sacked from the show in episode 10, and fans took to social media to express their annoyance. Her strength and physical prowess had made her a fan favourite.
"What I'd discovered was that I knew my body and mind were capable of much more than I realised and that felt good, and I'd also learned a big lesson about the importance of being vulnerable and opening up, too."
She does that in Running Strong.
She talks about her childhood. How her father Mickey, whose parents had immigrated from Malta after World War II, was little more than a boy when he rode his pushbike from the inner-city suburb of Waterloo to the beach at Maroubra and decided then that would be where he raised his family. How her mother Kerry worked several jobs with a young family to help make ends meet. How the family's life soon revolved around the Maroubra Surf Life Saving Club.
"Maroubra can be confrontational, but never without cause," she writes. "Tough but fair, that's a way you could describe the mood of Maroubra ... and that's how you could describe me too."
She says she's learned to be a lot kinder to herself over the years, not setting such high expectations, cutting herself a little slack.
"It's not easy, there are days where you still judge yourself, you worry that you don't look like you used to, can't do what you used to, but I get over it a lot quicker now.
"That's one bit of advice I'd have for women who might be struggling with their identity, with being a new parent, after a relationship breakdown, or if their kids have left home - be kinder to yourself.
"You look in the mirror and you don't see those pictures you might see on social media reflected back at you, you look tired, you're a reflection of hard work, of being exhausted.
"You need to make some time for yourself and just know that whatever it is you're going through will pass."
Sometimes she wonders whether this is the case. Every day, still, she is reminded of incidents in her past. When the news broke about the release of Running Strong, all everyone wanted to know is whether she would address the "toilet tryst".
She does. She tells her story. Her truth.
Williams had a girlfriend at the time, Candice was single.
"There seemed to be a strong feeling that Sonny Bill had just done what blokes do, even when they have girlfriends, but that I was a slut," she writes.
Her agent at the time advised her to publicly apologise, "for what exactly I could never quite understand", but she did. The story became one of Australia's first huge online news sensations.
She tried to contact Williams through his agent at the time and never heard back. She hasn't to this day.
"Women are definitely held to a different standard, there's a double standard of sorts," she says.
"Even now there are times when I still feel that. If I'm on a panel, or doing commentary, people don't want to listen to a woman's opinion.
"We've come a long way, don't get me wrong, but there's still such a long way to go."
She remembers the first night she met her future husband. They were introduced by a mutual friend in 2010. She didn't like him very much.
"We were at the Beach Road Hotel in Bondi after doing the 2010 City2Surf. I thought he was possibly the rudest man I'd ever met," she says.
"He didn't create a good first impression."
About three years later, she saw a sports documentary which featured David playing in the Indian Premier League T20 competition and saw a different side to him.
She messaged him via Twitter, he messaged back and soon after she was packing her bags and heading over to England to join him on tour before they'd really met a second time.
One year later, their first daughter came along and in 2015 they married "in that little window in Australia when the weather's still sunny and warm, the summer of cricket is over and international cricket is yet to begin".
A few days later he was off to India for the IPL. It was just the way things were going to be.
"As a husband, I couldn't ask for anything more," she says.
"He's a competitor and when he plays for Australia he's super determined, he wants to win, he's aggressive, that's just the way he was brought up and that's how he plays cricket.
"But off the field, he's incredibly soft. He's the most wonderful father to our three daughters.
"And even now being away if he's touring the hardest thing for him is not the scrutiny, it's not his form, it's spending time away from the kids."
How's games night in the Warner household? Does it get a little competitive?
"Very," she laughs.
"Whether it's games with the girls, or if the two of us are out for a run, David will sprint away at the end just to make sure he finishes the run ahead of me.
"Even the girls have inherited our competitive spirit so it can get a bit feisty at times but we wouldn't want it any other way."
She says they've brought out the best in each other.
"We just hold each other's hands. We're a team, we work well together and we just support each other."
One takeaway from the book is how unconditional their love is. How hard is that for a couple in the spotlight?
"Yes we've got high profiles but we're very normal. We still live in the area we both grew up in, we still have the same circle of friends, we don't do anything different to anyone else, it's very easy to stay humble and grounded when people around you are making sure that happens."
Does she have any regrets?
"There are always regrets, but there are always lessons to be learned. That's the way I see it.
"Through your failures, through your stuff-ups, you have your biggest growth, you reassess your life, work out where you want to go.
"It's where you find out how strong you are."
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