Quit your way in May: How Darren Lehmann made the most of his second chance at life

Sheffield Shield cricket’s greatest run scorer has revealed he nearly won his long battle to give up smoking 22 years before having the heart attack that nearly claimed his life.

With the help of nicotine patches, South Australian great Darren Lehmann, who had his first cigarette at age 14, did not smoke for six months at age 28 before making his Test debut for Australia in 1998 and succumbing to touring life.

As he reflected on his journey from Australian cricket star to Australian coach and heart attack victim on his 50th birthday last year, Lehmann said he regretted not being mentally strong enough to give up the cigarettes for good in his cricket heyday.

“I was travelling well for a while, was six months clean, but unfortunately the boredom of touring life had its way with me,’’ said Lehmann, whose experiences have led to him becoming an ambassador for the Quit your way in May campaign.

“Sitting in an overseas hotel room in India, not going anywhere and focusing only on cricket, it can become a bit lonely and I slipped back into a dark, bad habit.

“I’ve felt a bit guilty about it ever since and nearly paid the ultimate price.’’

PART 1: THE DAY THAT CHANGED BOOF’S LIFE

Darren Lehmann, right, nearly won his long battle to give up smoking 22 years before having a heart attack. Picture: Sarah Reed/Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images

Swashbuckling left-handed batsman Lehmann, who plundered 13,635 Shield runs for SA and Victoria from 1987-2007 and played the first of his 27 Test matches against India in Bangalore in 1998, said after originally taking up smoking again to cure his boredom he would later light up to relieve stress.

He became a 20-to-25 cigarettes a day smoker for the next 20 years before having a heart attack on the morning of his 50th birthday in a Gold Coast hotel room in February last year.

This massive scare, which saw him undergo triple-bypass heart surgery and took him months to truly get back on his feet, forced him to give up smoking “cold turkey’’.

“I didn’t realise how unhealthy I was until I stopped smoking and felt the benefits, less coughing, feeling physically better and breathing fresher air,’’ Lehmann said.

He admitted to still having the occasional urge to have a cigarette but that he now had the willpower to resist, knowing the dramatic effect they can have on your health.

Now Lehmann wants to spread the message about just how bad smoking can be for your body, saying he is grateful for being given a second chance at life and the opportunity to see his kids and future grandkids grow up.

“I don’t want anyone to go through what I have and have a heart attack when it can potentially be avoided by living a better and cleaner lifestyle,’’ Lehmann, 51, said.

“There is no time like now to make an effort to stop smoking.

“I don’t want to make excuses but back in 1998, when I tried so hard to give up smoking and was able to put them down for six months, through nicotine patches and chewing gum, there wasn’t the support network around me that is offered now.

“Smoking was much more popular, for many people it was the norm, and you were put in social situations where people were even encouraged to smoke.

“You get hooked, it becomes a bad habit, like alcoholism, and there was no network support around you.

“These days smoking is frowned upon and there is plenty of help on offer. All you have to do is ask.

“There is so much great support out there, via counselling, relaxation techniques, goal setting.

“If you want to quit with the support of others, I encourage you to head to www.facebook.com/groups/quityourway support group.’’

PART 2: HOW LEHMANN KICKED HIS SMOKING ADDICTION

Darren Lehmann is stumped by wicketkeeper Sulakshan Kulkani during a tour match in India on a 1998 tour.Source:AP

Lehmann said that after a traumatic 12 months he had never felt better or in more control of his life.

He undertakes walks near his Brisbane home, for at least half an hour and sometimes for as long as two hours, every day, often plugged into an audio book.

Golf has become a keen hobby.

He said his lungs feel clear, his food tastes better, his clothes and the air smell cleaner and he is sleeping more soundly.

On the cricket front, Lehmann has just been reappointed head coach of Big Bash League team the Brisbane Heat, whose season will start in December.

“Coaching in the BBL with Brisbane is good fun, enjoyable without being too stressful,’’ he said.

“It’s terrific to stay involved in cricket but, most importantly, it’s just great to feel healthy again and to be able to look forward to a long, bright future with my family and friends.

“I am living life to the fullest, which at times last year is something I didn’t think I would be able to do. Life is good.’’

Darren Lehmann spoke to The Advertiser to promote the Quit your way in May campaign, designed to encourage South Australian smokers to have a go at quitting smoking at any time during the month of May. Smokers can register at www.quityourwayinmay.com.au. Lehmann will be answering questions about how he quit smoking at a Facebook live event on Thursday, May 13. Details are available at www.facebook.com/Quityourwayinmay.

Originally published as‘I nearly paid the ultimate price’: Boof’s big regret

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