Former NRL players share their stories of hope

Two inspirational rugby league players shared their inspirational stories of their emergence from despair and passed on words of hope at the eighth annual Diamonds in the Sky Suicide Intervention carnival held recently in Innisfail.

The key note guest speaker was former NRL prodigy turned hip hop artist John Rowbotham.

Rowbotham was born in Brisbane and moved in Innisfail with his mother at the age of 13 where he first started playing rugby league.

​He soon came to the attention of North Queensland Cowboys and was placed on a two-year scholarship.

During this time, he also earned himself junior Queensland and Australian representative honours.​

At the age of 16, the second-rower earned his first contract with the Cowboys when he moved to Townsville.​

His success in the sport continued, consistently earning state and national representative honours, as well as captaining the Australian Schoolboys Rugby League team in 1998 and 1999. ​

In his early 20s, multiple reconstructive shoulder surgeries, accompanied by a fierce infection saw Rowbotham's sporting dreams shattered and his life spiral out of control.

"It was during this time my mind took me to some very dark places and had me thinking of doing some horrible things to myself,"Rowbotham said. 

Amidst a turbulent childhood, broken dreams and still bearing physical and emotional scars from the past, Rowbotham found solace in music and became a rap artist known as Johnny Row. ​

John Rowbotham was the keynote speaker provided hope and inspiration by sharing his life story at the Diamonds in the Sky Suicide Intervention Carnival in Innisfail. Photo: Maria Girgenti
John Rowbotham was the keynote speaker provided hope and inspiration by sharing his life story at the Diamonds in the Sky Suicide Intervention Carnival in Innisfail. Photo: Maria Girgenti

In 2011, Rowbotham released an album 'On A Personal Note',  which featured true accounts of his life journey which can be described as an emotional roller coaster.​

Rowbotham's song 'Scars' is dedicated to his derailed NRL career and has him singing with a raw conviction.

Since the most difficult times in his life, Rowbotham has rebuilt his world. He is married with two children with a job as a fly-in fly-out worker in the mines.

The three-day carnival is held every year to coincide with World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10 and features basketball and touch football teams in a number of divisions. 

The aim of Diamonds in the Sky is to provide education, awareness and intervention strategies to tackle suicide in local and surrounding regions.

It hopes to reach out to community members through participation in sport, as well as to encourage, support and promote life.​

One suicide is one too many and the carnival's aim is to increase awareness and eliminate suicide in the community.

Former NRL legend Campbell of Gold Coast Titans, Penrith Panthers and Cronulla Sharks fame attended the carnival as the guest speaker and soaked up the atmosphere.

He told his emotional and inspiration personal story about how even as an elite athlete, he fought his own demons and battled with depression and suicide.

Campbell said it took him 11 years before he could tell his story, but now he hopes by sharing his story, he will be able to help others.

He described his demons as 'dingoes' and said how ignoring and hiding behind a mask only made those problems worse.

Things were looking bleak and it wasn't until he was prepared to understand and tackle these issues that Campbell was then able to take positive steps in his life to overcome depression.

"As humans, it's important for all of us to speak up, be honest and talk about our underlying, feelings, thoughts and needs as this is the first step in understanding who you are which in turn will assist with understanding others," Campbell said.

Campbell is an advocate for suicide prevention.

He also offered advice and encouragement to those who are affected by it.

Campbell stressed the importance of taking the first step of talking to someone and asking for help and support whenever you are experiencing trouble, as the after effects of suicide doesn't just affect one person but families, friends and the wider community.

Innisfail Touch Association referee Deborah Zanoletti with Deadly Choices ambassador and former NRL legend Preston Campbell who also shared his story. Photo: Maria Girgenti
Innisfail Touch Association referee Deborah Zanoletti with Deadly Choices ambassador and former NRL legend Preston Campbell who also shared his story. Photo: Maria Girgenti

Main image: John Rowbotham chats to Councillor Mark Nolan, his wife Marsha and Member for Hill Shane Knuth at the Diamonds in the Sky Suicide Intervention Carnival in Innisfail. Photo: Maria Girgenti