After finishing at the Brisbane Lions, I played for Aspley in 2016 before moving to the Byron Bay Magpies because I began studying nearby.
Entering a local club where I knew no one was difficult at first but funnily enough, I wasn’t the only one who’d come from elsewhere.
Most of the guys I played with at the Magpies were from another area — it was almost like I was back at the Brisbane Lions where a large portion of the talent were from interstate and there’s only a small handful of locals.
That built a closer relationship between the players at the club because we all didn’t know many other people in the area. It was a great way to settle into a new environment — there was no initial isolation.
We actually won the premiership in 2017, which is a highlight for anyone lucky enough to achieve some form of team success.
But late in the year, a teammate of mine at the Magpies lost a close friend to suicide.
He was only 23 years old and had battled his mental health issues silently — his mates didn’t know what he was going through until he was already gone.
I never knew this guy — he was from Western Australia — but he had a profound impact on my teammate, Bobby Walker. So much so that he had to act.
Bobby created a regular, small gathering in his town for people to hang out, socialise, have a drink and a barbeque in a relaxed environment.
It was born out of frustration that the stigma surrounding men’s mental health still exists — particularly in small towns and regional communities.
He wasn’t frustrated at his mate but frustrated that it could’ve been avoided. That all suicides can be avoided. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Bobby isn’t a mental health professional but he’s had his own mental health troubles and felt the need to take to social media to raise awareness. Creating an Instagram account, Bobby formed For The Boys, a foundation to combat the stigma associated with mental health in the male population.
It’s affected people I know and care for as I’m sure it has with a lot of people — we all know of someone who’s struggled if we haven’t been through it ourselves. I’ve played with guys at the elite and local level who have been affected by mental health problems.
We’ve seen many AFL players go public with their stories recently but it isn’t spoke about among local footy teams all that much, if at all.
And you don’t hear about a local footy player going through some issues because they don’t have that voice or platform to talk about their story.
Since creating the foundation, it’s far outgrown the expectations that Bobby and his sidekick, Andrew Fyffe — another teammate of mine at the Magpies, had and are taking on a the monstrous walk from Noosa to Byron Bay to raise awareness.
I’ll be there at the starting line on the 20th of May as we kick off the 310km trek. I’m not sure how far I’ll get into it but I’ll do as much as I can.
The plan is to complete around 52km — around 12 hours — per day and camp under the stars at night next to the support vehicle.
We’d love anyone to join in. If you’re in the area and want to walk along and tell us a bit about your story, or even just give us a hug, we’re up for it — we’re all in this together.
We’re going to finish the last 10 or 15km on the beach once we enter the Byron Shire. We should make it there on the 25th of May — Bobby’s a stubborn man so he’ll make sure we’re there on time.
I’m incredibly proud to say I’m a part of this and even more proud at the work Bobby and Andrew have done to bring this together.
The reactions he’s had so far have been unbelievable and I know some nights he’s been overwhelmed with the amount of people reaching out to talk about the things they’re been struggling with.
This is something that’s unlikely to have an endpoint — not until there are no more men dying from mental illness.
But we’ll continue to talk-the-talk and walk-the-walk, beginning with the third Sunday in May.
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