As Brisbane swelters through the start of another hot summer; Paoa Faamita is one of hundreds of players undertaking a gruelling pre-season.
While some complain about the hard work; for Faamita; life is good. He is surrounded by people who love him; his family is happy and healthy and he has a job he enjoys.
What him special however is how remarkable it is that he has been able to reach this point in his life; as only a few short years ago; he was struck down as a young man with a heart attack – coincidentally, during a pre-season training session.
Wednesday, December 7, 2011 was a largely uneventful day for most people. However, it is a day that changed Faamita’s life forever.
His morning began like any other; working his day job as a storeman before heading to the football field to take part in preseason training with the Easts Tigers Intrust Super Cup squad.
It ended however, with him in an ambulance, in an induced coma rushing to Brisbane’s Princess Alexandra Hospital.
This young and healthy semi-professional athlete had suffered a heart attack.
(Playing football) was all I knew. I had no trade, no career behind me ... I had no idea what I was going to do.
Showing promise as a youngster; he was signed by the Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs as a 15-year-old, and had moved to Sydney to play for them at 17.
He also played 87 Queensland (Intrust Super) Cup games and was looking to improve that number.
This scare was not only a huge shock; the news was a devastating blow for a player of the cusp of something more.
Faamita spent the best part of a month in the hospital, had a pacemaker fitted and had the conversation he most dreaded having with his doctors.
(Main image: Paoa Faamita in his Easts Tigers gear circa 2010)
At 23; he thought his playing days were over and that he would never again lace up his boots.
He slumped into a deep and dark depression. At his worst, he was paralysed with depression and anxiety.
“It (playing football) was all I knew. I had no trade, no career behind me. My wife was heavily pregnant with our eldest daughter and I had no idea what I was going to do,” Faamita said.
Luckily for him, his wife Courtney had had some experience of dealing with depression.
In a time before campaigns and organisations like R U OK? and Livin were established; she was crucial in his recovery.
“She was my motivation, my inspiration, my everything. She sat me down and got me to focus on what I wanted to do with my life,” Faamita said.
“Honestly, I wouldn’t be here today without her. I couldn’t ask for anything more in a wife and partner. I’m blessed to have her in my life.”
The other key aspect in his recovery and in turning his life around was his faith.
“My faith played a big part in my recovery. The love and support of friends and family was amazing. I realised how lucky I was. People die from heart attacks, but I was alive.”
As one might expect; his journey back to the playing field was not quick and certainly was not easy.
By 2016, Faamita was ready to get involved with the game again; so he went to the Greenbank Raiders to help coach the Under 7s side.
And, it was not long before he started to get itchy feet – the desire to play still burned.
“The passion and desire were still definitely there,” the former Ipswich Jets and Wynnum Manly Seagulls player said.
As timing would have it; as the senior team approached their second game of the season – it soon became apparent they did not have the numbers for a full team.
No one at the club knew what had happened to him and immediately the questions began.
Could he play? Could he help them team out?
At first, he tried deflecting the questions telling them he didn’t have boots or shorts.
“But the stuff just appeared,” he said.
In the end, he agreed to play.
“I was pretty nervous to be honest. But the first time I got the ball in my hands, I just ran and didn’t think about it (the pacemaker).
“After that I just played like I didn’t even have it.”
The team lost that day, but Faamita didn’t mind. He was back doing what he loved.
However, success soon followed. The team won the premiership that year, the club’s first senior premiership in 25 years.
While he had enjoyed his time with Greenbank; he could not stay there as he had made a promise to his father-in-law Brian that if he ever played again, it would be for Brian’s beloved Northern Regional Rivers side the Kyogle Turkeys.
“I like to think I’m a man of my word, that’s pretty important to me. So, once I realised I could play and contribute again, there was never any doubt, I was going to Kyogle.”
And so began the commitment to take on a 2.5 hour commute for game day.
“It’s a small town and they were so welcoming, they welcomed me with open arms,” Faamita said of his time with the club.
“The club were so good to me ... I’ll never forget my time in Kyogle.”
Even if he does not play another game of rugby league this season; the truth is, it does not actually matter, as this is not a story about someone playing rugby league again.
It is instead a story about a man who had his dream snatched away from him and fought tooth and nail for the opportunity to pursue that dream again.
And this time, when he does hang up his boots – whenever that may be – it will be on his own terms.
*A variation of this article by QRL correspondent Matt Crowhurst first appeared as Paoa Faamita enjoying second chance
If this story has brought up issues for you; you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14, Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800, Mensline Australia on 1300 789 978 or the Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.