Family

NZ Rugby league legend Graham Lowe's pride for his champion ballroom dancer son

Graham says he is blown away by the beauty and strength of his son's dancing.

By Amy Prebble
For rugby league legend Graham Lowe, old habits die hard.
As he watched his son Jack deliver a magnificent performance at a national competition, he leapt to his feet and yelled, "Go number 14!"
Graham's other son Sam had to intervene. "Dad, shut up – you're not at the footy!"
The Lowe family were supporting Jack at the New Zealand Ballroom Championships in Hamilton, so Graham (72) brought his encouragement down a notch.
"I stood on the edge of the dance floor and I just watched them [Jack and his dance partner Arwyn Stevens]. They were doing one of the waltzes, they came down towards me and all of a sudden it just got me. The grace, style and the strength. And I started crying. Then Sam hissed, 'Dad, you've taken the cringe factor to 10,'" Graham says, laughing.
Jack (15) confirms that Graham is an emotional spectator.
"Dad doesn't really see many of the practices. He really only sees me at competitions and he just cries usually."
Graham, who has coached Australian rugby league team the Manly Sea Eagles, English powerhouse Wigan, and is the only non-Australian to coach a team in the State of Origin competition, says he is blown away not only by the beauty of the dancing, but also by the intense training needed to achieve dancing greatness.
"Jack puts in more training than most professional rugby league players that I've ever had anything to do with," he says. "And I demanded a lot from players when I was coaching. What's required for what he does is just at another level."
Sam (15) is the sporty one in the family – he's a keen basketball and volleyball player – but neither of the twins is following in their famous dad's footsteps. This doesn't worry Graham in the slightest.
"That's one of the questions I get asked all the time, 'Gee, you were a long time as a footy coach – surely you want one of your boys to play footy?' But I couldn't care less. You see what they're doing and how good they are and what opportunities lie in front of them."
Jack and his dance partner Arwyn Stevens train with Dancing with the Stars alumni Jonny and Kristie Williams
He's also glad that boys have more options these days.
"When I was young, boys who danced, we thought they were sissies. But it's not like that now. It's just fantastic. I'd advise any kid to get into it. I've never seen anything like it. It's not only the physical effort that's required –it's the mental toughness as well. Most people I know from footy wouldn't be able to cope. It would be too much."
Jack says his dad has never put any pressure on him to get into sport.
"I always wanted to be interested in sport and I enjoyed touch rugby and stuff," he says. "But dancing was always my thing."
He started ballet lessons at the age of three and has now branched into tap, jazz and hip-hop. He also takes dance as an NCEA subject at school – so he has a bunch of friends in his year who are also into dancing.
However, ballroom is Jack's main passion. He and Arwyn train with Dancing with the Stars alumni Jonny and Kristie Williams and, ultimately, he'd love to make a career out of it.
"It's just so fun to do and I love it so much," he says.
"I just feel immensely proud," his mum Karen (57), says of watching Jack and Arwyn (14). "I see all of the work they put in and you see it come to fruition on the floor. They make it look so easy, but there are hours and hours and hours of work getting all of those moves perfect."
On the odd occasion that Graham does attend one of Jack's practices, he has to hold back from interfering.
"I suppose every parent's the same," he says. "I've found with Jack's training, it's hard having someone else telling him what to do. I'm protective of him."
Graham finds his son's work ethic inspiring.
"I'm now busier than I've ever been in my life. I think that a lot of it is to do with Jack. He practises five days a week, three hours at a time."
The sports stalwart spends a lot of time working for his charity The Lowie Foundation, which uses the 12 principles Graham developed during his coaching career and the language of sport as a hook to entice students back to education.
"I believe there is more than one way to learn," says Graham. "I left school at 14. And I see, particularly in disadvantaged areas, many kids with natural talent but they're slipping through the cracks and not getting education for whatever reason. So what we've done is we've designed basic literacy and numeracy courses, and then we use the language of sport to teach them."
The pilot of his programme, which he ran in Kaitaia in 2014, was so successful that the government approached him to trial the initiative in prisons.
"So we tried it and it was an absolute success. We've already graduated more than 100 men in Foundation Level 2 basic literacy and numeracy studies, which is massive. It's about teaching in a different way."
He is proud that The Lowie Foundation received the 2018 Corrections Partnership Award and he has big plans to help more people in the future.
Graham says his twin boys have given him a new lease on life
But Graham freely admits that if he and Karen hadn't had the twins, he probably wouldn't have started the foundation. He has survived numerous serious health problems, including a brain haemorrhage in 1991 that left him in a coma, heart attacks, deep vein thrombosis and strokes. He has also undergone a triple bypass. But he says Jack and Sam have given him a new lease of life.
"They've done something to me − it's no disrespect to my girls, Sarah and Amy; they're married women with two children each and I love them every bit as much. But these guys have just totally changed me, even my health. I was fully expecting that I wouldn't last until 60. I'm 72 now.
"Recently we were having a five-year plan meeting and I said to the guys at the end of it, 'You do realise that by the time this ends I'm going to be 77. I just want to put some perspective on it!'"

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