Growing up, former Carlton and Sydney player Sam Rowe thought he was indestructible. He was young, fit, healthy and felt invincible, as young blokes do.
After being delisted from the Sydney Swans after two years as a rookie and moving to South Australia to play for Norwood in the SANFL, Rowe was offered an AFL lifeline by Carlton. He had just completed his carpentry apprenticeship and his life was on track. He thought nothing could go wrong.
It wasn’t until he discovered a lump and was diagnosed with testicular cancer at the age of 24 that he realised how quickly life could change.
“It reminds you that these things happen to people and it doesn’t matter what you’re doing or where you’re from. No one is immune to it,” the Movember ambassador told AFLPlayers.com.au.
In 2012 and at the beginning of his tenure at Carlton, Rowe had surgery to remove the lump and underwent a six-week bout of chemotherapy before being given the all clear from doctors.
He returned to football training in October that same year and made his AFL debut in Round 2 of the 2013 season. He would go on to forge a 99-game career with the Blues before being delisted at the end of the 2018 season.
Despite the adversity he faced across his career, Rowe believes it is those challenges that shaped who he is.
“Resilience is a funny word but I think all of these things that I’ve faced teach you what motivates you,” he said.
“I’ve learnt throughout my time that the bigger the challenge, the more motivated you get. I crave those challenges a fair bit.”
After a breakout season in 2014 and elevation to the leadership group, Rowe became a mainstay in Carlton’s back six.
A torn ACL in 2017 would change his fortunes — it was back to the rehab group and away from the playing field.
“When you’re not out there it can feel like you’re missing out a bit and that’s probably the hardest part of long-term injuries or missing large chunks of footy… you feel like you’re missing out,” he said.
It was in those times of isolation and overcoming the difficulties of not being able to play with his teammates that Rowe sought comfort from the club and his family and friends.
“It’s important to have those conversations and keep yourself involved in what the team is doing. While you can’t do anything on the field you can try and have some involvement and impact off the field.”
Although Rowe felt like he had more to give after returning from his ACL injury to play 17 games, he is understanding of the direction Carlton are taking. He has learnt over his time in the industry that the AFL can be cutthroat and things can change quickly.
“I think everyone hopes that you can play footy as long as you can. It’s an amazing career and an amazing and fun environment to be involved in,” he said.
“But, I think you have to give yourself a day or two to deal with that and then you have to get on with everything.”
And get on with everything he did. As a registered builder and qualified carpenter, Rowe began assessing his options and developed a relationship with insurance builders the Johns Lyng Group.
After supporting him through his delisting and the challenges of transitioning to life outside of football, Rowe will commence a full-time position with the company over the coming weeks.
“I would’ve preferred to play on but that’s just the way it goes. I sit here at the moment pretty excited about what my career is and what my plans for the future are.”
In Australia, testicular cancer is the second most common cancer in young men aged 18 to 39, with the rate of men diagnosed having grown by 50 per cent over the past 30 years. Although there are no proven measures to prevent testicular cancer, Movember are encouraging people to take action and check in.
Earlier this season, the male playing group made the decision to evolve the AFL Players’ Most Courageous Award, presented by men’s health charity the Movember Foundation, to ensure that courageous off-field acts can be honoured at the end of each season.
The players also donated $60,000 through the AFL Players Care program to the Movember Foundation, and launched ‘Courageous Conversations,’ a video series featuring Dayne Beams, Taylor Adams, Connor Blakely and Matthew Lobbe in August, a campaign that shed some light on their own mental health challenges throughout their careers.
To find out more, or sign up, visit Movember.com