The moments that rocked me: Walker

The moments that rocked me: Walker

Each week former Queensland State of Origin strike weapon Chris Walker writes exclusively for QRL.com.au.

 

There are two clear incidents during my rugby league career that rocked me – and both involved the death of somebody close to me.

In terms of pure shock, I can vividly recall receiving a phone call from my Mum when I was in my first year of playing NRL with the Broncos.

I was only 19 at the time and the news involved a mate I'd gone all the way through school with – Glenn.

We'd known each other since we were four or five, hung out together, used to have sleepovers...that sort of thing.

He was a good-looking fella, smart, mischievous, the girls loved him and he had the world at his feet.

Glenn didn't play league, but he was active in sports and soccer was more his type of game.

He was not the sort of bloke I would have ever suspected would take his own life – but he did.

That really hit me like a tonne of bricks and, while I considered it a massive shock at the time, it's not until now, looking back, that I realise just how big an impact it did have on me at the time.

I still choke up a little just thinking about it.

Losing someone affected my mindset to such a degree that I have a thorough appreciation of the QRL now having specialist Wellbeing and Education Officers with the Intrust Super Cup clubs and in the regions.

Their role is not just to react when incidents like this happen, but to be proactive and prevent people getting to that situation.

The other loss that affected me was when legendary talent scout Cyril Connell passed away in 2009.
Cyril was such a small man in stature, but a true giant of the game.

For somebody who played for Queensland 24 times and also pulled on the green-and-gold of Australia, he was incredibly humble and personable.

I knew Cyril for a touch over 20 years. He'd visited my house to see my oldest brother Ben when he was only 13 or so, and eventually he signed all four of us Walker brothers.

Cyril was such a lovely bloke and, while you might think our personalities were like chalk and cheese, he never made me feel different to anybody.

I'm lucky to have such a great role model for my kids in my father Gary, but if I ever wanted them to take after somebody else – then Cyril would be that person.

He took time for everyone, made them feel special, built them full of confidence and he had an unbelievable mannerism that made kids and their families warm to him and trust him.

I loved nothing more than playing footy when my Dad was in the crowd, but if Cyril was there, he was a close second.

I'd always push to get that little bit extra out of myself, because I didn't want to disappoint anybody.

In 1997 I played in the Australian Schoolboys National Championships in Forbes and my father and Cyril both drove all the way down to watch me play.

I didn't have the best of tournaments – probably took it a bit easy because I'd already been picked the year before – and I can clearly remember Cyril's words.

"Chris didn't have a very good carnival did he?" was all Cyril said.

He didn't rant and rave or make a song and dance, but the fact those few shorts words stuck in my mind probably give an indication how heavily I weighed his opinion.

But he didn't let me dwell on it either and he was quick to remind me afterwards that one poor tournament wouldn't end my career.

You look back over the legends of the game that Cyril identified in their youth (and I don't mean to sound like I'm including myself in that statement), and he had an incredible strike-rate.

There was a real contradiction in such a gentle soul being involved with such a physical sport as rugby league.

Everyone knows the stories about how Cyril was afraid of flying and would drive to places like Cairns and Canberra, but it was how he drove his car that was really amusing.

If he saw a bird on the side of the road he would slow right down. He remained incredibly perceptive and thoughtful right throughout old age.

While Cyril might have passed away later in life than Glenn, we lost two beautiful people when both of them left this Earth.

If you or someone you know is having a tough time, call Lifeline Australia on 13 11 44.