It’s been a tough few weeks for father-of-two Lance Hohaia. The rugby league star, who played with the New Zealand Warriors for 10 years before moving to the UK to join the St Helens team, reached the Super League Grand Final in Britain, only to be knocked unconscious by two punches from disgraced Welsh player Ben Flower in the first two minutes of the game.
Video of the brutal attack went viral last week and made international headlines.
Recovering at his UK home, Lance (31) says he is grateful he has the unconditional support of a loving family – wife Marisa (31) and two young sons, Tyler (2) and four-month-old Riley. Lance knows that playing top-level sport can take an emotional toll, but since becoming a father again, he’s able to put his life into perspective, and that means family comes first.
“No matter what kind of day you’re having, your kids will always be there to cheer you up,” he says. “With my wife by my side, I know that my family are there to love and support me, and make me laugh. This is what I enjoy the most.”
Born and bred in Huntly, Lance met Marisa, who is originally from the US state of Michigan, in Auckland in 2009. The pair quickly fell in love and decided to start a family after moving to the UK three years ago to further Lance’s league career. Soon after their arrival, Tyler was born and in June, the couple were overjoyed to add another gorgeous baby to their close-knit unit. However, there are always challenges.
“It’s a big adjustment going from having one child to having two, especially when you don’t have family close by to support you,” Lance explains. “The first time around we were nervous. Being new parents, we wanted to make sure we did everything right. But it’s been easier with our second son – we’re much calmer and feel more relaxed.”
When Tyler was born, Marisa experienced a difficult 16-hour labour. But when his little brother entered the world, the birth was smooth sailing.
“There was no difficulty at all,” Lance says, as he watches Riley cuddling with his mother. “He was happy and healthy – it was pretty successful!”
The beaming smile on Marisa’s face shows she is ecstatic to be a mother again. “It’s nice to have another baby around because they give so much positive energy.”
She describes Riley as “a good baby – he’s a gentle soul”, and recalls how unruffled he remained throughout her labour. “His heart rate didn’t change at all. My midwife says she’d never, in her whole 30 years, seen a baby that chilled out!”
Just like Marisa, Lance adores the new cherub in the house.
“Tyler is the mysterious brooding one out of the two, and Riley is always smiling and loves being held. We can already sense the type of person he’s going to be. He loves being around people.”
For the past five months, Lance, who has played 29 international tests for New Zealand, has been juggling his rigorous training schedule with parenthood. Although he was disappointed to be knocked unconscious during the Super League finals, when his team beat Wigan, Lance is glad the season is behind him and he can finally take a well-deserved break.
“We’re taking a holiday in Croatia this week, then we’re on to the South of France. That’s something I’m looking forward to,” he says.
With one more year left on his contract, Lance is now assessing his future after sport. He’s studying towards a business degree and supporting Marisa in her own venture – an online jewellery business called Autumn Lace Jewellery.
“I’ve always been creative,” says Marisa, who moved to New Zealand in 2005. “It’s great that I can do something I’m passionate about.”
Lance predicts he only has a few years left as a professional sports player. He and Marisa have yet to decide whether they will settle in New Zealand, to be near Lance’s whanau, or the US, to be near Marisa’s.
“It’s exciting to see what the next chapter will hold,” Lance tells. “I’m trying to enjoy the small amount of time I have left playing footy and I want to finish on a high note. And we haven’t ruled out having another baby – hopefully a little girl.”
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