Darren Lehmann had his first cigarette as an innocent 14-year-old. Barely 35 years later — following a heart attack and triple bypass surgery — the cricket legend went ‘cold turkey’ on his pack-a-day habit.
It started innocently enough.
Budding young cricket star Darren Lehmann was hanging out at his local park at Gawler with a couple of mates when, at age 14, he had his first cigarette.
“It was offered to me and I thought why not try it?,’’ he said.
But Lehmann would live to regret the decision.
“Because if I hadn’t had that cigarette I might not have been so ill and had a heart attack,’’ the now 51-year-old said.
“My smoking started with that one at the park, progressed to one or two here and there, then three or four a day, then a dozen a day and ultimately a packet a day.
“Before I knew it I was hooked, it became an addiction.’’
That addiction saw Lehmann – one of South Australia’s greatest batsmen who played 27 Test matches for Australia from 1998 to 2004 – become a 20-to-25 cigarettes a day smoker for 30 years.
He said cigarettes became such a habit for him and were so easy to obtain during his playing days, because cigarette company Benson and Hedges was a major sponsor of Australian cricket, that he never considered giving up.
“After a day’s play the first thing I would do was light up,’’ Lehmann said.
“It was a habit and also a stress reliever, a way of relaxing. I enjoyed a cigarette.’’
But Lehmann would ultimately pay the price for his addiction.
On the morning of his 50th birthday in February last year, Sheffield Shield cricket’s greatest run scorer’s world came crashing down around him when he suffered a heart attack in a Gold Coast hotel room.
“That’s what it took to shake me up and for me to realise I had to clean up my act,’’ Lehmann said.
The former Australia coach was forced to stop smoking “cold turkey’’ after undergoing triple-bypass heart surgery, which saved his life.
“It changed my lifestyle,’’ he said.
As he was recovering in hospital, Lehmann coughed up what he described as “black tar’’.
It was then that he knew how sick he was and the dramatic effect that more than three decades of smoking had taken on his body.
His lungs were in a bad way.
“When you are recovering in hospital you are under very strict supervision and guidelines about what you can and can’t do to get better,’’ Lehmann said.
“Clearly smoking was a ‘no-no’’ and so I was forced to give up cold turkey to get back to being healthy again.’’
Lehmann said that because he had been so sick and was just determined to get back on his feet after his life saving surgery, he was able to quit without too many problems.
But the urge to smoke again grew stronger as he became healthier.
“A few months after my operation I got the urge again, particularly when you were socialising, at restaurants et cetera, and there were smokers around you,’’ Lehmann said.
“You would get the whiff of a cigarette and think about lighting one up again.
“But that’s a path I don’t want to go back down and one that I know I can’t afford to go back down.
“I’ve been given a second chance at life and want to make the most of it.’’
Lehmann said he had considered nicotine replacement therapy to help him contain the urge to smoke again but ultimately relied on his mental strength.
“For me it was a case of mind over matter,’’ he said.
“I’d done the hard yards with my health and kept reminding myself that I didn’t want to fall back now.
“Quitting is not easy, once you’ve been a smoker the urge is always there, but the negatives far outweigh the positives, that’s what I keep telling myself.’’
Lehmann, who currently coaches Big Bash League franchise Brisbane Heat and lives in Brisbane, said he also tries to avoid being around smokers, so that the urge doesn’t hit him.
“I also like having fresh clothing again, rather than have it spoiled by cigarette smoke,’’ he said.
Having endured the nightmare of the shocking health effects brought on by smoking, Lehmann is encouraging smokers to take the first steps in giving up by participating in the “Quit your way in May’’ campaign.
“I don’t want anyone to have to go through the health battles that I’ve had in the past 14 months,’’ he said.
“Quit your way in May is about having a crack at quitting. Even if you go back to smoking, you can still feel proud that you’ve given your body a break from the smokes and you’ve learned new skills for your next quit smoking attempt.
“When it finally happens for you, whether it’s going cold turkey, using nicotine replacement therapy or going through Quitline or other counselling, I can guarantee you will feel much healthier when you don’t smoke.’’
Darren Lehmann spoke to The Advertiser about his quitting smoking journey as part of a
four-part, weekly series to promote the Quit your way in May campaign. It is designed to encourage South Australian smokers to have a go at quitting smoking during the month of May. Smokers can register and start their quitting attempt at any time during May at www.quityourwayinmay.com.au.