We’re only human, and every sportsman knows that his career won’t last forever. Even so, to be forced into retirement at the top of his game, was a brutal hammer-blow to the dreams of Scottish rugby international Andrew Mower.
Newcastle Falcon’s openside flanker was barely 27 when a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee put him out of Scotland’s side for the 2003 World Cup and into hospital for a major ligament reconstruction.
The operation was a success and so, apparently, was the long rehab road back to full recovery for the 2004-5 English rugby season, but fate hadn’t done with Andy Mower. “Things were going so well that I was almost back to taking full contact,” he remembers.
“Then during training, my foot caught on the grass and the knee gave way. A scan showed that the ligament had snapped again. I had another operation and started my rehab from scratch again but in October 2004 the doctors said that medical advice was that I should call it a day.
“It was an extremely tough decision because I loved the game,” says Mower, who played 13 times for Scotland. “But there comes a point where you have to weigh up the rest of your life when you get medical advice like that.
“So what should I do next? Sport and finance were the only things I knew about,” remembers the man who before rugby had worked for an Australian bank. As things turned out, they happened to be the perfect start for a career which has taken off in spectacular style.
Today, Mower and his wife, Australian supermodel Jocette Coote, are spearheading the UK launch of fast-growing fitness franchise F45 Training, which now has over 820 gym studios in 22 countries and a target of 1,200 by the end of the year. The 50 franchises sold in the UK should soon be coming on-stream and at least six will belong to Mr and Mrs Mower.
They opened their first, in Farringdon, London, last July and now have over 1,000 members. Three more London gyms - in Battersea, Ravenscourt Park and Clapham Junction - should be open in six months and Mower is now looking at sites in Newcastle and Edinburgh.
Like banking and rugby, Mower’s new career started in his native Australia where an old mate, former equities trader Rob Deutsch, had spotted a gap in the health and fitness market.
F45’s pioneering approach was based on the formula that variation+motivation+innovation= results. In stark white studios, clients exercise in front of huge plasma screens featuring regularly-changing high-intensity 45-minute work-outs.
“One day you train like an American quarter-back and the next day you could be training like a surfer,” was how Rob Deutsch put it. “We are the Apple store of the health and fitness scene.”
Deutsch persuaded top sportsmen to buy into the brand, including Australian cricket legend Adam Gilchrist, and Mower who was back in Australia as a financial trader. “I could see the potential in F45 and Jocette and I decided to go for it,” Mower says.
“We never expected the brand to grow so fast and the momentum to be so great. Jocette is more hands-on - she does the marketing and pushes the brand - while I concentrate on finding new venues. I’m still in banking at the moment but soon I hope to go into F45 full-time.
“I use the Farringdon gym regularly and despite my knee problems, the F45 routines are fine.” Mower, now 42, admits his rugby career took some unexpected twists. Born in Sydney, he went semi-professional with local team Gordon Highlanders while working as an HSBC trader and turned down offers from bigger clubs to move to England.
Signing with London Irish for two years, Mower moved to Newcastle Falcons in 2000 to play alongside Jonny Wilkinson. “Jonny was awesome. He was the best attacker of his day and really nice guy who helped us a lot. He mentions me in his book, which was nice.”
The Australian made his debut at home to Northampton on the opening day of the season, and scored a try in Newcastle’s win over the European champions.
Mower missed only seven of the 36 matches in his debut season, scoring three tries and playing in the back row at Twickenham when Newcastle took the Tetley’s Bitter Cup from Harlequins.
In his third season, Mower played a key role in turning round the club’s fortunes and saving Newcasstle’s Premiership status after a worrying run of defeats.
“I only had four seasons at Newcastle before the accident, and wish it could have been more. We had a good young squad and I was very sad to leave. But these things happen.”
When international rugby came knocking in 2001, Mower found himself in a unique dilemma. His maternal grandfather was born in Glasgow, which meant that Mower could qualify for Scotland, but through ancestry, also had options to join the English, Welsh and Australian squads and had been scouted by all four countries.
By all accounts, Sir Clive Woodward was disappointed to lose out, but put on a brave face by saying: “We were looking forward to working with Andy as a member of the development squad but he has made his choice and we wish him all the best for the future.”
“I did have options to play for four countries and the situation came about very quickly,” Mower remembers. “I thought about it long and hard and in the end I decided that Scotland’s style of play would suit me best.”
The usually hard-bitten world of rugby reacted with sadness when the news of Mower’s enforced retirement was announced in the autumn of 2004. “You have to listen to your body and I’ve given it every opportunity but I don’t feel I can get back to the level I was playing before the injury,” he said.
“I would have loved to have played until the next Word Cup and have had the chance to play against Australia - something I’ve never done. I’m so happy and proud to have represented Scotland.”
Scotland coach Ian McGeechan hailed Mower as an inspiration and “an exceptionally dedicated player who was always willing to put himself on the line for his country. His retirement is a big loss - his commitment to the game and the team was outstanding.”
And Newcastle added its tribute: “For months we prayed for Andrew’s return but unfortunately it wasn’t to be. The game has lost a great player and we wish him all the very best.”
Today, the Mowers live in leafy west London with their three children - Rob Deutsch is Godfather to their baby son - and Jocette still has one of the world’s most recognisable faces. She has appeared numerous times in the fashion bibles Vogue, Harper’s and Marie Claire and was the international face of Nivea for eight years.
“Andy and I are a really good team.
He has a very good background in business and fitness and a tremendous enthusiasm for the product. He has really bought into the philosophy behind F45 and has great plans for our franchise.”
Mower acknowledges Rugby has changed since his day: “It’s faster and the fitness levels are higher. It suits the really athletic players. I still follow the game, keep up with rugby mates and go to matches whenever I can.
“Who do I support? When Scotland played Australia the last World Cup, I’m not ashamed to say I was cheering my heart out for Scotland!”