A veteran of 77 matches for North Auckland (now Northland) prior to even reaching Christchurch, Con Barrell went on to add 52 caps for Canterbury prior to his retirement in 1999, as well as falling just short of a half century of appearances for the Crusaders. After playing out of the Kamo club made famous in more recent times by Ian Jones, during his Northland career, Barrell offered fine service to Sydenham, joining their list of All Blacks when he featured as a mid-week international player in 1996 and 1997.
What many rugby fans may not realise is that Con was also a chronic asthmatic.
"I would train hard and be rearing to go to the next big game for the Canterbury Crusaders, only to be knocked back by asthma after catching a slight cold", he says. "It was heart-breaking. My family and friends would ask, 'why are you doing this to yourself'? because I had to take so much medication to get through a game. It worried me as well, and I seriously thought of giving the whole thing away. But thankfully that is a thing of the past - life is only going to get better from now on!"
Asthma was Con's long-time, unwelcome companion. His rugby successes are a tribute to his outstanding dedication and drive to overcome a condition that would prevent many from even considering a sporting career. Suffering from it as long as he can remember, he was determined that it shouldn't stop him from doing what he loved - sports of all kinds. From a farming family, he was very active at school and competed in everything. The family doctor had said that in many children asthma disappeared part-way into the teen years, but Con was disappointed as his condition became steadily worse.
"Even with laughing, talking a lot - how teenagers do - I would feel wheezy and tight. In my late teens the rugby became serious, and I had to take preventers to be able to continue. Asthma made a huge impact on my overall performance; it could set me back without any warning, and I would miss games for which I had been training successfully. I was an inconsistent player because of it."
Con's big break from asthma came a matter of days before he was due to play in Orange Free State with the Crusaders in May 1997. His mother-in-law had seen the Buteyko discussed on the Holmes Show, and persuaded Con's wife to send away for information. The family also checked out the Buteyko web site and were impressed with its claims.
"I contacted tutor Russell Stark and told him I was due to leave the country in four days; could he do anything to help? He was in Christchurch at the time and he gave me the best asthma education course I have ever had. I learned more about the condition and how medication works in the first half-hour than I had found out in the rest of my life. When I first read about the technique it seemed strange, a bit unbelievable. But during Russell's course it all made real sense."
Con was able to master the technique well enough to make an enormous difference to his game in South Africa. It was not unusual for him to take 20-30 puffs of Ventolin during play; he carried a puffer tucked inside his sock. He had been known to empty one in a game. This time however, he used Ventolin only once, and felt incredibly well even though he was playing at high altitude, opposite the formidable South African Os du Randt. He was delighted to be able to play a whole game rather then come off the field at half-time, and to avoid inconvenient stops while he took his medication.
"My wife feels much more relaxed now as she watches me play," he comments. "Before I learned this drug-free control method, she would be looking at my face during a game, worrying when she saw the tell-tale, stressful signs that I was having trouble breathing."
Con feels confident that Buteyko has given him skills to accurately monitor and control his condition himself, while using the minimum amount of medication.
"I still take a preventer regularly but simply do not need so much reliever. I have not had Prednisone since learning Buteyko. I sleep better, my pulse-rate has dropped 10-12 beats on a regular basis, and I feel well. This has been a big help to me, as a professional and personally. I recommend asthmatics try it - things can only get better."