It's the smile that melts Jordan Smiler's heart, and the Palmerston North-born ACT Brumbies loose forward dreams of the day he'll be able to kick a ball with three-month-old son Keanu in his Canberra backyard.
Born with club foot, Keanu's feet rotate inwards at the ankle. Twenty-three hours a day, he wears special boots - a metal bar connecting his heels to slowly straighten his feet - and he'll do so until he's four years old.
A month after his birth, Keanu needed surgery to start the slow and painful process as his tiny body adjusts to the changes.
It was obviously a stressful time for Smiler and his partner Stacey but the former Waikato flanker said having a son has changed his career - and he's already counting down the days to being able to teach Keanu how to play rugby.
The couple found out about Keanu's foot problem 20 weeks into Stacey's pregnancy and immediately researched the deformity.
"I was reading that one in 750 kids are born with it in developed countries, so it's not uncommon, and I've spoken to parents who have gone through it and the results are awesome," the 28-year-old said.
"It was scary . . . it was a bit of the fear of the unknown. But we sat down with the specialist and he said it was easy to fix.
"The thing about the surgery is that it doesn't affect the progression for crawling or walking.
"At times it's a bit painful when they change the angle of his feet, but he's starting to settle down now.
"Every day you see little changes in what he's doing. He's starting to make some noises, you can have a yarn with him. It takes your mind off rugby, (especially) if you have a bad game . . . he gives you a smile and it melts your heart."
Smiler, who was born in Palmerston North but spent the bulk of his life in the Hawke's Bay, Northland and Waikato, finally launched his Super Rugby career in the Australian capital last year and has a deal to the end of this season.
After barely featuring in the Brumbies advance to the 2013 final, Smiler has eventually established himself on the blindside flank in a loose trio comprising current Wallabies captain Ben Mowen and fellow Kiwi Jarrad Butler after understandably enduring a disruptive pre-season.
He missed two Brumbies pre-season games to be with his family while Keanu had surgery in Sydney, a procedure that involved his Achilles tendon being snipped in both legs to loosen his feet and allow them to straighten.
There's an 80 per cent relapse rate for children who have the surgery though Smiler has been buoyed by seeing the results for older children.
"It's given me a lot of focus, direction and purpose to life," he said. "It changes why you do things. You put family first and sometimes you don't understand that until you have your own kids," said Smiler.
"The Brumbies were great. The coaches told me family always came first when we had to go for surgery. It put me behind some of the other guys in pre-season and slowed the start to the year, but I don't regret it for one second."
- Fairfax Media
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