Adam Blair spoke with Te Ao Toa. Source / File
Rugby league legend Adam Blair has paid a heartfelt tribute to his late father, who passed away when the now retired star of 331 NRL games and 55 internationals was only 12 years old.
Blair (Pangaru Ki Papata) left New Zealand to chase his rugby league dream in Australia when he was just 16 years old. In time, he would go on to captain the Kiwis and Māori All Stars, and make the most NRL appearances of any New Zealander.
Blair is the oldest of eight kids and was brought up in Panguru in the Hokianga. He credits his father, Willie, with helping him become the person he is today.
"Dad passed away when I was 12. We grew up on a farm, dad takes over the family farm, gets brain cancer, dies when I was 12," Blair told Te Ao Toa.
As his father became sicker, the responsibility for decisions about the running of the farm fell on Blair's shoulders as the eldest son. He also helped his mother, Catherine, look after his siblings.
"My youngest brother and sister, who are I think they are like 26 now, never really got to meet dad, so only know dad I guess from memories from us, or photos, or us just talking about him in general."
His father's passing happened more quickly than anybody thought, and just four years later Blair would board a plane for Australia, leaving behind his whānau and friends.
"I had to grow up really quick as a person, as a kid. Your dad is your idol, he's your role model and being the eldest boy of the family I was pretty much stuck to dad's hip most of his life," he said.
"If I look back and I think about that time of leaving, it must be the hardest thing I've done in my whole life. As a 16-year-old, leaving your family, your friends, your brothers and sisters, aunties, uncles, everyone and going over by yourself, and trying to make something of it."
As painful as the loss of his father was at such a young age, Blair said the experience enabled him to find an inner strength.
"Tough part of life as a kid, something that you don't want any kid to have. But it made me more resilient. It made me who I am."