As the Six Nations kicks off, former Scotland rugby hero Chris Cusiter is a world away from the game.
The 36-year-old made 70 appearances for Scotland, in a carer which also saw him play for the Glasgow Warriors, Border Reivers, Perpignan and Sale Sharks, before reporter.
Now retired from the game, he is now working in the whisky industry, bringing up a family, and the battle to keep his Scottish accent in California.
I fell in love with rugby when I started playing at school in Aberdeen. My first coach was George Watson at Robert Gordon’s College – he was just fantastic. When you’re that age you need somebody who makes it fun and enjoyable and who is passionate about it. Mr Watson was definitely that. Then there was Andy Dougall – a former Jordanhill and Scotland B centre – everyone was really impressed by his back-ground.
My 13 years in professional rugby were incredible. I’m so grateful to have had that opportunity. The early years were some of the most enjoyable because there was still that sense of novelty. Playing in iconic stadiums like Murrayfield, Twickenham or Stade de France for the first time was like a dream come true.
There were plenty of highs and lows, but I just loved the training, getting to meet people from different countries, and travelling the world. Playing for Scotland was my ultimate ambition, and then playing with the British and Irish Lions in New Zealand in 2005 was beyond what I had ever dreamed of.
I probably had less regard for my own health than I should have done back then. I had quite a few injuries which were regrettable. But it’s that physical side of the game I enjoyed. I’m not that big so it took its toll at times. Now when I watch a game, I can’t believe some of the collisions – I just could never think about playing again now, having been out of it for two and a half years.
I was ready to retire from rugby. I’d had enough at that point – I’d had three concussions in my last year and physically wasn’t feeling great.
But it’s a nice life in professional sport – you get everything done for you, you get paid quite well, you travel the world…
Moving on from that and trying to figure out how things worked in the real world was tricky. You sort of go into the abyss trying to start a new career about 13 years behind your peers.
We decided we wanted to live in California and I set up a whisky business. The first two years were tough and I had a few moments where I wondered what the hell I’d done. Why had I invested all my money in something I had no idea about? But it’s been amazing this year and I have a great team of people working with me now.
California is a bit of a crazy place. It’s challeng-ing, it’s huge, the traffic is awful, it’s expensive…but on the other side there’s so much opportunity here. And the beaches – they’re incredible.
The Americans are very knowledgeable about Scotch whisky. They spend a lot of time researching it and tasting it. There’s still some work to be done on their pronunciation of distilleries, but I’m still learning that myself. It’s nice to be selling a product that I love and that I’m proud of – that makes it worthwhile.
I resisted Americanisms for a while. Sometimes I’m slightly ashamed of myself when I soften my Ts or use words I wouldn’t normally. I think I can turn it on and off. Hopefully next time I’m home I won’t get laughed at by my friends.
I’m very proud of my family, my business and my rug-by career, but family comes first. My wife and I have two daughters. One is nearly one and the other is three-and-a-half. Life is definitely busy. We’re lucky to have a beautiful young family.