If the first 281 games didn’t test Nick Riewoldt, the last seven certainly have.
The St Kilda captain has experienced public scrutiny, injuries, and grand final defeats – but nothing could compare to the turbulent time he’s recently endured.
Riewoldt lost his sister Maddie to illness before the AFL season began, just weeks after his partner Catherine gave birth to their first baby.
“It’s been a really difficult period in our lives – probably the worst possible thing that could ever happen to a family coinciding with the best thing” – Nick Riewoldt
Madeleine Riewoldt fought a bone marrow failure syndrome called Aplastic Anaemia for five years but lost her battle in February.
She held on long enough to meet her first and only nephew, James, when Nick and Catherine introduced him to the 26-year-old at the hospital bed.
Flanked by Catherine in Channel Seven’s #Discovered series on Saturday night, the St Kilda champion says it was a moment he’ll remember for the rest of his life.
“A memory that will always stay with me is James and Maddie meeting for the first and only time. It’s really hard to talk about; Maddie was so excited,” Riewoldt said.
“They touched each other’s hands. It was beautiful, he had a big smile on his face and she did too. She could talk at that stage, so he heard her voice.
“He’ll have a great guardian angel looking over him forever.”
Maddie, who was diagnosed with the condition at age 21, fought numerous invasive procedures, two bone marrow transplants, and spent seven months in hospital, staying the longest of any patient at the Royal Melbourne Hospital’s ICU since its inception.
Last week, the Riewoldt family launched Maddie Riewoldt’s Vision – an initiative to help adolescents and young adults suffering from Bone Marrow Failure Syndromes through research and providing support into treatments, prevention and with an aim to find a cure – in her honour.
The last three months have been tough for Riewoldt as he begins to adjust to life without his little sister.
“I miss her sense of humour; she was a really funny girl. I miss her loyalty and all those little things that were special between us. I miss being a family of five and now we’re a family of four. It’s just hard to get your head around.
“She was such a selfless person. She was always about other people and that was true right up until the moment she left us. She wanted this to become a reality and wanted to be an advocate for the cause.
“She was incredible throughout the whole process; she was the bravest person I’ve ever seen. All we can do now is be inspired by her bravery. That’s her legacy.”
Catherine agrees Maddie’s courage couldn’t be faulted and says the three Riewoldt siblings shared a special bond.
“Maddie, Alex, and Nick have been best friends. They were so much more than siblings; they had that other level that I think so many people sometimes miss out on. I don’t even think they know how lucky they are to have had the closeness that they did,” Catherine said.
— St Kilda FC (@stkildafc) June 14, 2015
On the field, Riewoldt’s form has improved recently, averaging 18 disposals, nearly 11 marks and booting nine goals in the last three weeks, after a horrid concussion derailed his start to 2015.
But football is just a game and the 32-year-old understands that as well as anyone at the moment. Each day, Riewoldt comes home to the most important thing in his life.
“James has been a shining light for both of us, I think. It’s been a really difficult period in our lives – probably the worst possible thing that could ever happen to a family coinciding with the best thing.
“He’s given us such a great purpose. It’s such a remarkable thing. If he has Maddie’s sense of humour and her courage and ability to fight, he’s going to have a great life.”
Donate to Maddie Riewoldt’s Vision at www.mrv.org.au or SMS ‘Maddie’ to 0437 371 371