A raw, gangly teenager collapsed to his haunches, took a couple of breaths before wearily making his way to the high jump.
It’s athletics day for the Associated Public Schools of Victoria and the organisers at the high jump event were growing impatient while waiting for a kid called Charlie Curnow to show up, not realising he was completing the 800-metre run.
Still heaving, Curnow was forced to jump immediately so he rolled into his run up, casually jumped off the wrong foot and cleared the 190cm bar, with his unplanned approach catching the eye of future teammate and friend, Billy Gowers.
“That was my first memory of Charlie. I didn’t even know he played footy back then,” Gowers told AFLPlayers.com.au.
“I was terrible but I’d been practising high jump for a couple of weeks leading into it, had measured my run up perfectly and still managed to muck it up, while Charlie just ran in and nailed his.”
Not many had heard of the soon-to-be high draft pick. At the time, Curnow was still a couple of years from rocketing into the AFL system.
Gowers and Curnow then played against each other in school footy. According to Gowers, Curnow, despite only being in Year 11, came out and booted seven goals in their Round 1 encounter.
Gowers thought it was a one-off at the time before the rangy forward continued to make a mockery of the APS competition.
Soon after, Gowers was rookie listed by Carlton, with Curnow following suit a year later. The pair became close and even lived together for a short period of time. It was there Gowers got an insight into an easy-going and genuine future star.
“We had him in for week when he first got to Carlton and he always offered to pay for things, do the little stuff and clean the house — just the little things, which shows how down to earth he is,” Gowers added.
“He actually is quite shy but once you get to know him, he’s very caring and a good family man. He’s outgoing in terms of his friendship groups, will always hang out with people he doesn’t know and have a good chat.
“Some of my friends who have met Charlie and see him down the street or out and about always say to me, ‘That Charlie Curnow bloke is a legend’. He’s genuine and that stems from his family.
“His parents are absolute rippers and it’s well documented how good of a person Ed is so I think Charlie has learnt a lot from his older siblings — Charlotte, Ed, Eliza and George. They’re all super people.”
Joining older brother Ed at Carlton has meant the pair, who are seven years apart, have caught up on some missed time when Ed was forging his own AFL career away from the family home.
Charlie was in Grade 4 at school when Ed was whisked away to Adelaide as a rookie. According to Ed, the brothers have now “got a couple of those years back and then some!” but fortunately Charlie is a little more independent than he was growing up.
“Charlie never wanted to miss out,” Ed said.
“If someone was doing something then Charlie would have to be doing the same thing. I guess you could describe it as compulsive FOMO [fear of missing out].
“If his older sisters were outside with the horses, Charlie would be doing that. He would follow George out somewhere and every time someone ate, Charlie had to eat.
“He wanted to be involved, to the point where it became annoying.”
Sister Charlotte, the eldest of the Curnow clan and eight years Charlie’s senior, remembers her younger brother climbing out of a custom-built paddock that was meant to contain the toddler on their 14-acre farm in Torquay.
Being the youngest of five, Charlie desperately wanted to be involved but his young age didn’t always go against him.
“He’s a joker, who manages to get away with everything with a smile because he’s the youngest,” Charlotte added.
“Because he is so lovable and kind to everyone, he gets away with it. Charlie is a lovable person and we’re a close family. He’s the youngest brother, though, so he’s the one who annoyed me the most.”
Despite knowing how to push his sister’s buttons, Charlie ended up living with Charlotte after being drafted to the Blues.
Most of the time, Charlotte made her younger sibling find his own way to training after Charlie had his license suspended in the lead up to the draft.
The Curnow family is a close one and Charlotte is almost guaranteed to receive a phone call from her former housemate asking if she’d seen the most recent game and chat through the things Charlie did on the field.
“He hasn’t changed from what he was before. He gets excited about footy because it’s fun and he loves it,” Charlotte added.
“He’s fun and loves spending time with family. He’s also a kind person and is generous. He gets more excited about things now, I think. He gets excited about anyone doing any activity with him, really.”
In more recent times, Charlie has been living with Max de Been, a mate from school. The pair clicked immediately in Nippers, the Surf Lifesaving program for children, where Charlie dominated.
de Been and Charlie grew closer as the years went on, especially after school finished, but the Carlton forward’s standout characteristics were always present.
“Charlie was easy going. You could put him in a room full of people and he would be friends with everyone within five minutes,” de Been said.
“He’s very outgoing but he has a knack of including everyone — that’s one of his better qualities. He’ll make sure all people are in the conversation and he’s not standoffish towards anyone.
“He’s a lot of fun. His life is almost like that movie Yes Man. it doesn’t matter what you want to do, Charlie will be up for it.”
The pair are normal 21-year-olds. Most days, they’ll take Charlie’s dog, Reggie, to the park and play some basketball, despite the fact that de Been cops a pasting against his bigger, more athletic friend.
But Charlie, being a gifted athlete and footballer, lives life in the public eye, which comes with attention and scrutiny not many would be accustomed to.
He’s arguably the league’s most talented young player and has remarkably been compared to the likes of Anthony Koutoufides and Dermott Brereton by pundits.
Couple that with his standout features — his 194cm frame and long, curly locks — and there isn’t anywhere for the Torquay native to hide.
But he still manages to maintain his genuine personality and stay grounded despite the hype.
“He’s not really one to take on too much of what other people say, be it positive or negative. He’s more happy to go about his business. I’d say he’s quietly confident,” De Been added.
“He jokes with his friends about how good he’s going to be but he’s not arrogant or anything like that. He knows inside that he’s going to be pretty good, which everyone else probably thinks as well.
“The whole Curnow family are super nice. They’re a humble family and their lives wouldn’t be any different if they were farmers or footballers. They’re not materialistic people at all.”
Ed, who hasn’t had to deal with as much attention his highly-touted brother, believes that Charlie copes with the added speculation as best he can.
“The thing that Charlie probably finds the hardest is the attention when he’s out and about and doing the things 21-year-olds like to do,” Ed said.
“At times, it would wear on him — it would wear on anyone — but if he can still do things like spending time with his friends, shoot the basketball around, have a skate or a surf without copping too much scrutiny or attention then he’ll be fine.
“He deals with it pretty well. He’s polite and friendly and will give people his time. He does it really well.”
Unlike many sport stars, Charlie is down-to-earth but he’s not without shortcomings.
He’s not the cleanest individual. de Been remarked that he often leaves his teabags in the sink despite the fact that the bin is under their sink at home.
Charlie is the cook of the household, which means dishes are regularly left aside. Charlotte mentioned that her younger brother left stuff everywhere, leading her to putting everything — clothes, dishes, other washing — into a basket and placing it in the middle of his bed.
And Gowers said Charlie is clumsy, messy and often spills his food and drinks regularly.
But among the negatives, Charlie’s qualities still shine through and his personality extends onto the field as well.
“One of my favourite moments was this year when we played against each other. He stuffed something up so I went up to him and was being a bit of a smartarse then I stuffed something up only a few minutes later so he came up and got into me,” Gowers said.
“Footy can be brutal sometimes so it was fun to be out on the field and be ourselves when playing against each other.”