Nathan Lewer, the man behind Leo the Lion and Captain Hurricane, talks about dressing as a rugby mascot, athletics and his bucket list.
Did you grow up with rugby?
I grew up in Feilding with Dad taking me to Manawatu games. I remember going to 2.30pm kick-off games with Dad when I was 7.
I'm not sure what Dad was telling school, but he'd take me out of school for it. I can also remember staying up with him and watching the 2am Grand Slam games. I played rugby through school. I worked out fairly quickly at high school that when kids get bigger, you get a bit munched if you're little. That's when I got more into running.
I started going to harriers when I was about 6. Through school I did mainly cross-country and road running. After I left school I did track. I was running anywhere from 800 metres up to half-marathons. I had some success when I left school and had a Wellington title at one time. But when I had a young family I couldn't do both justice, so I flagged the running.
Do you still run for fun?
A little bit, though more time is taken up with indoor netball. I also do a bit of cycling and of course run around as the Captain or Leo. I have two teens and three little ones, so there's plenty of activities there. And I'm on the board of Wellington Athletics now, which is about giving back to the sport.
Where do you like to run?
I enjoy the Botanic Gardens. You can spend a lot of time in there, winding your way through the area. The same with the trails on Mount Vic.
How did you become a mascot?
A mate and I would go to all the Lions' games and clown around up the top of the Millard Stand at Athletic Park. There was a competition on television. You had to interview someone famous. We decided to interview the mascot. It turns out it was the guy who did the sound stuff at the park and he'd jump into the suit when he had time. He told me if I wanted to run around in it one game I could. So I did and it sort of stuck. This will be my 18th year. I've been doing Captain Hurricane as well for eight years.
Can you see yourself retiring?
I have my bucket list of what I want to see before I retire. Fifty games as Captain Hurricane came up last season and I have done more than 100 as Leo.
I have seen the Lions win the NPC and the Ranfurly Shield, but haven't got that Super title yet. The main reason I haven't retired is the kids.
I see the looks on their faces when I shake their hand or give them an autograph. It's just beaming smiles and they run away saying, "I touched Leo, I got an autograph". I don't even watch the game now. I tape it and watch it at home. All I do is run around, play with the kids, entertain them, play silly buggers.
Before I retire I want to do a half-marathon or marathon in the Leo suit as a fundraiser for one of the charities the Lions are aligned with.
What's your favourite rugby ground?
Athletic Park. That Millard Stand was incredible. On a day when it was packed, the noise was deafening when you walked in front of it. The stadium is good, but different. You don't have the kids running around with you.
What's your favourite moment?
The 2000 final we won. I still have it on video. Jonah ran 60m down the sideline to score. I started running towards our goal-line and then Jonah got the ball and sprinted, so I sprinted as fast as I could alongside him. When he dived for the corner, I was right there. My mate rang and said he saw it on television and there's this footage of me running side-by-side with Jonah.
Which teams have the worst fans?
Waikato and Canterbury. In Canterbury it's the kids. At one game a kid was yelling at me using all sorts of swear words and his dad was just standing there laughing. In Waikato it's the grandmothers. They are just brutal. I had one lady throw fruit at me. Who even brings fruit to a rugby game?
What's your opinion about the Hurricanes in 2011?
When I'm going around the ground I hear the fans. While it was going on I had a few people say to Captain Hurricane, "I'm surprised to see you're still here; thought Hammett would have got rid of you". In terms of the overall team situation and morale, I didn't notice anything different.
Do your kids understand you're the mascot?
Yeah they do. I've had the outfits at home a few times and they relate to it. They've put the heads on, which is quite hilarious. I took them to the Christmas parade last year, so I wasn't in the Captain Hurricane outfit.
When the Captain came along, my 5-year-old turned around and said, "Dad, that's you. But why are you here?"
- The Wellingtonian