Giving young people a sporting chance

 

One evening over dinner in 2017, APA member Andrew Duff and an orthopaedic colleague thought about how they could help aspiring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander athletes by limiting the negative aspects of injury.

Andrew Duff and his friend Dr Daevyd Rodda, a Queensland orthopaedic surgeon, decided to start the Sporting Chance Foundation after an initial idea to help athletes in Papua New Guinea. Andrew says ‘Dave and I were out for dinner one night and we thought why aren’t we doing this in our own backyard where we can make a big difference here at home? From that point on, we’re fortunate to have great people come on board sharing their skills and passion. The level of support has been overwhelming.’

Sporting Chance Foundation has the ultimate vision of ‘athletes inspiring their communities’. It is about creating a legacy of positive change for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander athletes and their communities. Andrew says that when people do fall out of sport due to injury, positive engagement within the community can also fall away. ‘We aim to limit the negative aspects of injury to try and facilitate an early return to sport. An early return to sport means  that these kids are positively involved with their communities, and the ripple effect of that one person’s positive experience can have a significant impact on those around them,’ he says.

The organisation is only in its infancy and everyone involved is working pro bono including physiotherapists, orthopaedic surgeons and anaesthetists. Although some hospitals are also getting involved and providing free stays, the foundation is still looking to partner with like-minded organisations. The focus at this stage is to build an efficient back-end to ensure that they have a sustainable and effective model in order to deliver an outstanding service. ‘We don’t want to bring these kids from remote communities into a city and give them surgery, a little bit of rehab and then send them back,’ Andrew says. ‘We want to focus on creating a legacy of positive change for these athletes and their communities. This can be as simple as the athlete stepping into providing injury prevention education for their local clubs and sharing in their personal rehab journey, to providing education tools for the physio and allied health professionals in their local communities so they can continue their rehabilitation. It is a key consideration for us to have that person supported when they go back to their community.’

At this stage, physiotherapists in Perth, Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney and the Sunshine Coast have volunteered their time to help the foundation. ‘We have slowly moved ourselves into a position now where we can probably provide services in a range of the main centres and are continuing to build relationships in the remote areas,’ Andrew says. ‘Because of the high incidence and impact of ACL injury, this is where we have currently focused our attention. Decisions are made in conjunction with the orthopaedic specialist around conservative or surgical management and we have supported athletes who have gone down both pathways.’

Originally from New Zealand and now living in Buderim in Queensland, Andrew’s desire to help people and give back inspired him to begin the journey towards establishing the foundation. Being a partner at Sports and Spinal Physiotherapy has also seen physiotherapists from his own team provide support to some of the Sporting Chance Foundation athletes.

Andrew says physiotherapists hold a unique position in terms of their skills, education and resources. ‘Physios are very empathetic and compassionate people so I think we naturally gravitate to that sort of work and that sort of approach. Ultimately, how good is it to make someone smile? Just helping that one person and seeing the difference it makes in their life, if we zoom out and consider the impact of those individual interactions, and the way that can impact on families and communities, it’s incredibly humbling and rewarding work to be involved in.’ And having an impact is exactly what the foundation has done for Malachi Ware, a 15-year-old athlete from Townsville.

Malachi, who has played rugby union, rugby league and AFL at representative level, he was playing state championships in Brisbane for Lloyd McDermott National Indigenous Team under-15s before returning to Townsville to play in an annual rugby league tournament, the Queensland Murri Carnival, for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Using this platform and the community event, Malachi’s team promoted autism awareness and the team played for a young man with autism who led them on to the field. It was during the grand final that he injured his knee in a tackle and was unable to continue playing the remainder of the game; although, the team won the under-15s competition.

Imaging was taken shortly after and revealed a complete ACL tear. Malachi was devastated and worried what this would mean for his promising career. His mother contacted the Sporting Chance Foundation, which reviewed his case and the MRI. It was decided that the best course of action was to fly Malachi to the Sunshine Coast to be assessed.

Sporting Chance Foundation provided flights and accommodation on the Sunshine Coast for Malachi and his mother. Malachi was assessed by Daevyd and Andrew and due to the nature of his injury, it was decided that the best option surgery, which was scheduled for the following day.

Malachi’s surgery went well. After recovering on the Sunshine Coast for a few days, he returned to Townsville where he began his physiotherapy with the foundation’s partner and local clinic, North Queensland Physiotherapy Centre.

Malachi will continue his rehabilitation at the local clinic with APA Sports and Exercise Physiotherapist Jonathan Crawley and APA member Jordan Piggott until he is back on the sports field achieving his goals—he aims to one day play in the National Rugby League. Malachi plans to enhance his recovery through the strength of his culture, having a valued role in his club and school teams and keeping a strong supportive family around him so that he can return to the field. The foundation is keen to follow his progress and are confident they will see big things from Malachi in the future.

Sporting Chance Foundation now has an orthopaedic surgeon in Townsville who is offering services to aspiring Indigenous athletes. This will make the surgery process much easier for athletes in Northern Queensland. Andrew is also very keen to affirm that the success of the organisation is down to the passion and support of all those people who are involved, from the medical support staff to the communities themselves. ‘Our physiotherapy team are absolutely essential in being able to deliver on our vision of aspiring athletes inspiring their communities.’

 

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