Round 10 – St Kilda v Hawthorn: A Sporting World To Be Proud Of

 

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1.Sports men going the extra mile for Motor Neurone Disease
Joost Van de Westhuizen: “Why not me”
Two years ago, when travelling to Cooperstown, NY, USA, with my brother Andre, and visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, we got distracted by a film crew and a man in a wheelchair.  Being who I am, it wasn’t long before I knew what was going on and introduced myself.  I was a travelling sports writer, was I not?
We were in the presence of an ex-Springbok champion player, Joost Van de Westhuizen.  He and a South African crew were there making a documentary of the connection between Joost and the great baseball legend Lou Gehrig, both who are/have suffered from the same disease.
Here is what I googled standing talking to Museum staff:
”Joost heads to US for medical treatment” (Odette Schwegler, the documentary maker who organised the visit said to me later that this headline was wrong, he was in the USA to participate in research and form partnerships with world leading experts in his bid to establish a centre of excellence for MND in South Africa.)

In the South African Newspaper, Joost is quoted as saying:
They said I would be in a wheelchair after a year. They said I had a 20 percent chance to live two years. And I decided ‘stuff them.’ I will decide when I go.”
According to the J9 Foundation page and the interview with Joost within it, he was diagnosed in 2010 with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), an aggressive form of MND.
The paper said that the former rugby star – who established the J9 Foundation for other sufferers of the disease – will also visit a centre in New York at the Eleanor and Lou Gehrig Centre, which provides research and clinical support for MND/ALS sufferers.
He is quoted as saying,
In the beginning you go through all the emotions and you ask, ‘Why me?’ It’s quite simple, ‘Why not me?’ If I have to go through this to help future generations, why not me?

You can read more about Joost on his wikipaedia page here

 

Lou Gehrig “I consider myself the luckiest man on earth”.
I’d like to quote another great sportsman who changed the way his countrymen thought about MND. Wikipaedia reports that
on July 4, 1939 Gehrig delivered what has been called “Baseball’s Gettysburg Address” to a sold-out crowd at Yankee Stadium:
Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.
When you look around, wouldn’t you consider it a privilege to associate yourself with such fine looking men as are standing in uniform in this ballpark today? Sure, I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t consider it an honour to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I’m lucky.
When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift—that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies—that’s something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter—that’s something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so that you can have an education and build your body—it’s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed—that’s the finest I know.
So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for. Thank you.
The crowd stood and applauded for almost two minutes. Gehrig was visibly shaken as he stepped away from the microphone, and wiped the tears away from his face with his handkerchief. Babe Ruth came over and hugged him as a band played “I Love You Truly” and the crowd chanted, “We love you, Lou”. The New York Times account the following day called it “one of the most touching scenes ever witnessed on a ball field”, that made even hard-boiled reporters “swallow hard.”
“Don’t think I am depressed or pessimistic about my condition at present,” Lou Gehrig wrote following his retirement from baseball. Struggling against his ever-worsening physical condition, he added, “I intend to hold on as long as possible and then if the inevitable comes, I will accept it philosophically and hope for the best. That’s all we can do.”
Two years later, Lou Gehrig died at the age of 37.

Neale Daniher : “It’s important that people who’ve heard the diagnosis know that, on average, it’s two to four years to live but I might bump that up a bit”.
In August 2014 Neale Daniher was interviewed by his close friend Tim Watson and disclosed to the Australian sporting world that he had MND. He had given up his position as a Football Operations Manager at the West Coast Eagles, and had moved back to Melbourne to raise awareness of this disease, and used his connections in AFL football to do so.
The article quotes him as saying, “A tragedy of the disease is you’re a witness to your body dying.”
There is no treatment for this disease and no cure.  In light of this, Neale and those around him began a campaign to raise money for research and support.
“You don’t cope by fear.  You just day-by-day exist”, he said.  “You just get on with life and enjoy life and there’s a lot to enjoy.”
Neale and his mates and all of us, raised $2,377,963 in a month.  I heard interviews where he said they thought they may be able to collect ½ million dollars. In the FreezeMND campaign, which culminated in the AFL match between Melbourne Football Club and the Collingwood Football Club on Monday 8th June 2015, in all the footy shows, and footy clubs, and media outlets, through the fundraising and effort of celebrities and friends, a huge amount of money was raised to help out a sporting legend and all MND sufferers and families.

The Common Link
As I watched the celebrities go bravely into the ice, as I watched the march from Federations Square to the MCG, as I saw a sea of blue hats that are part of the fundraising, I saw great people coming together to fight for common good, it reminded me of meeting Joost and his people.  I didn’t converse with him other than a few niceties, I remembered us all being in the small Cooperstown shops looking for presents for loved ones at home.  He wasn’t thinking of himself but of the children he will never see grow up.
Lou Gehrig lived in another time, was a magnificent baseball player and unbelievably honest and brave man, and in the USA there is the Centre in New York, like in South Africa and hopefully soon in Australia, that will dedicate itself to finding answers and helping sufferers and their families.
2. Old boys having fun (with a young woman having a crack)
Before the match between St Kilda and Hawthorn on Sunday, the Saints had another “Legends” game to celebrate.  With the two coaches and Saints legends, “Spud” and “Burkie”, we had Lenny Hayes and Stephen Milne and Kosi and Warnie (men who only need one name), running around the Dome, having a bit of fun.  Chasing the pig skin, kicking a few goals.
Like minded fans braved the terrible, chilly wind tunnel leading up to entrance 3, waiting in the bitterly cold afternoon gale until the gates opened and we could find some relief and a seat to watch our older boys. And to watch the valiant people who donned the St Kilda home and St Kilda away Guernseys to play for two 15 minute quarters. The Club on-sold this privilege for $1500, and they got two teams together. The stand outs were the father and daughter inclusions, and the brave older men, as well as some carrying their belly’s proudly to give the game a go (even if it meant sitting in the goal square so they wouldn’t have a heart attack and have to be carried off.)
They all looked like they were having fun, being cheered on by mad Sainters, the fans who came two hours early to the latest Sunday afternoon game of the day. Before they started, it warmed my heart to see Nick Riewoldt, Leigh Montagna, Lenny, Kosi and Milne laughing and chatting in the middle of the ground.  It warmed my heart to see Milne with a huge grin on his face, back in a place where he is loved and adored.
Riewoldt half watched the game as he kicked the ball to a trainer, warming up, and taking some pleasure in watching Lenny again give his all, see Milne take a mark from behind his back (it worked the first time), see Kosi lumber around that second too late into a contest. Most of the guys played were probably in their 30-40’s. Milne came nearby to take some photos with fans. Warnie looked like a fan boy and kicked a handy goal.  Burkes boys won by 3 goals.

 

3. Konichi-wa
My guests this day at the footy were Rachel and her friends from Japan.  This is another funny story.  Several years ago, at a Rotary Caulfield function, I started chatting with a sweet Japanese man and thought I’d play the match maker for my daughter Rachel.  Koji and I exchanged details, which I passed onto Rachel, who was studying Japanese. It turned out Koji was married to Yuka, had a young daughter Rika and was pregnant with the now 16 month old Kana.  I didn’t manage to find my daughter a husband, but I found her some brilliant friends. Koji had been studying at Caulfield Monash University Campus, and is now about to start in internship, just like my son.  He’s just doing it with a family to support.  Both of their extended families are back in Tokyo, ready to help Rachel when needed.
Rachel, Koji and Yuka are now all solid friends and it was time for Rachel to come to her last football match before living in Japan, and introduce her new Australian/Japanese friends to football. She and her friends and the best behaved children I have ever witnessed, sat in the empty row in front of us. Rachel had provided them all with Saints gear that she’d collected over the years, Koji had Rachel’s Saints jacket, Yuka and Rika had old scarves, and the little one was just happy to be amongst all the action. I’d bought head phones to silence the noise just in case, but the kids were so relaxed about it all, even with the ever excited Saints people getting noisy at some stages.
We also had Uncle Bob’s wife with us and Betty hasn’t seen a winning Saints game in years.  Today would just continue this trend.
Together we witnessed Round 10 of the AFL. And together we travelled home in the packed train, where I used my magic fingers, the trick I carry around in my bag everywhere, to distract at the time where tiredness or tears kick in.  I had many in the carriage watching me take the light out of one ear and putting it into the other, a moment of magic Nanna meant some smiles on tired faces.

 

4. Football Unites and Divides
With such spirit abounding all around the sports world over the last weeks, I have watched my young team the Saints lift theirs.  This group, steadied by some older pappies like Riewoldt, Montagna, Fisher (when in), Geary, Schneider, Dempster and the still young and brilliant Steven and Armitage, have attempted to strengthen what is essentially a baby team.  I have even heard the fighting new young guns at St Kilda being referred to as “baby Hawks”, such is the spirit they have been showing in the face of bigger, taller, more developed champions of the game.
Come Sunday at the Dome, come 4.40pm, the worst allocated time of all, the Saints at least looked in the game any time they had the ball.  There was some terrific movement, wonderful passages of plays where handball after handball reached the intended target, and an attack was made. If they didn’t make the target, the same brilliant skills were shown by the other team, going the other way.  If Hawthorn had kicked more accurately in the first half, the end score would have been at least 8 goals more. When I watched the replay, so I could see up close and personal what had happened, when and why, I was incredibly impressed by the young men of my team.  Week after week I see improvement, week after week there are good signs that give Saints fans hope, as well as moments of frustration.
You could see that the moment a mark was dropped or a turn-over made, the hard work would have to begin again, the resetting of positions, the being caught on the hop as the ball bounced all the way through the opposition goal.
It has taken me days to write of all the different experiences of the weekend.  But the cartoon above came out as the first act of creation, the experience at the visual and visceral level of playing against a bigger, harder, more experienced team.
What I most enjoyed was seeing how our lowly team in 2015 took on the reigning Premiers. Skill and size were a problem and with time, both these will be adjusted.
It all just takes time.

 

5. “Fight Like Maddie”
Come Wednesday, the Riewoldt family announced “Maddie’s Vision”, a fighting fund to raise awareness and money for Bone Marrow Failure Syndrome. Nick Riewoldt gave a magnificent interview to Mark Robinson from the Herald Sun at the same time, and St Kilda and Richmond will use their upcoming game in a few weeks to get $5 donated from every ticket sold.  Nick and Jack are fighting for their sister/cousin in the best way they know how, like the sportsmen I talked about earlier are fighting against MND.
In our sports crazy world, we have experienced and are experiencing the very best of humankind. It makes the results on the football ground both insignificant and the most important thing in the world.  Without all this love of games, we wouldn’t have the amazing community of people who can come together to create wonderful forces for good, whether it be fighting racism, urging reconciliation and recognition or fighting homophobia.
It is a time where sports is really worth all the fuss.

About Yvette Wroby

Yvette Wroby writes, cartoons, paints through life and gets most pleasure when it's about football, and more specifically the Saints. Believes in following dreams and having a go.

Comments

  1. Grant Fraser says

    thank you Yvette – I had no idea that my favourite South African rugby player (note the contradiction in the statement…but moving on) was so afflicted. An awful condition.

    If nothing else, Joost is up there with Ironbar Bassey the weightlifter and Innocent Egbunike as having the best names in world sport.

  2. Brilliantly and sensitively written, Yvette, particularly the first and last topics. I admire the spirit shown by Joost Van de Westhuizen, the late Lou Gehrig and Neale Daniher in their battles with MND, and Maddie Riewoldt (RIP) with her fight against BMFS.

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