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Thursday, 12 June 2014

Nathan Charles - Cystic Fibrosis Rugby Player

Melbourne - Wallaby hooker Nathan Charles says he wants to be judged on his performance rather than a genetic disease he has defied to make the national team.

Story taken from The Australian
So here are the facts:
When Charles was three months old, he was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, for which there currently is no cure. People with cystic fibrosis develop an abnormal amount of excessively thick, sticky mucus within their lungs, airways and digestive systems. As a consequence, lung failure is the major cause of death.
Charles relies on his lungs more than most. He is a professional rugby player and on Saturday at Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium, his lungs will be swelled to busting point when he sings the national anthem, because he will sing it with his arms locked around his Wallabies teammates. And then he is going to really need his lungs when he comes off the bench to make his Test debut against France.
All of this is way more than he is comfortable with. There was a time, only a few years ago, when he kept his condition a secret because he didn’t want to be discriminated against, didn’t want to be known as “that person”. When he joined the Western Force in 2010, he even kept his coach, John Mitchell, in the dark about it. The first time he found the courage to speak openly to his teammates about it, he didn’t get past the opening sentence before breaking down in tears.
Over time, he has learned to speak more freely about it and come to accept his story can have a powerful effect on the lives of young people with cystic fibrosis.
“It’s very humbling to know it does inspire people to achieve more,” the 25-year-old hooker said.
But the problem is that each burst of publicity takes him further away from who he wants to be and how he wants to be seen. His hope is to one day be recognised as a great rugby player, not as a great rugby player who had cystic fibrosis.
“I guess there is always stigma attached,” Charles said. “Every interview you do, there is a question or questions about it. The thing I want to be judged on is my performance on a weekend rather than the disease I carry or rather be judged on how I’ve overcome it rather than it weighing me down and people saying you can’t do that because, excuse my French, that’s bullshit. The only limitations on yourself should be placed by yourself, not by anyone else.
“I want to look back and know that I did this on my own accord because I’ve worked hard to get here, rather than just being a sob story, because that’s not what I’m about. Some people see me as that and that’s absolute rubbish.”
Ask him how cystic fibrosis affects his life as an athlete and he answers, honestly, that he doesn’t know.
“The way I’ve been brought up and the way I live my life to me is normal. I manage this outside of playing, outside of training, outside of rugby. It’s just a matter of taking a few extra pills each day than the other guys, and hygiene.
For a “few extra pills”, envisage a cereal bowl full of them, taken every day. For “hygiene”, think unceasing vigilance. If a teammate has the sniffles, Charles unobtrusively will remove himself to the other side of the room.
“A simple cold can turn into quite a complicated chest infection, so I’m just quite cautious.”
This is a man, remember, who on Saturday night will pack down in the middle of the Wallabies front row, 786kg of Australian beef behind him, 900kg of French muscle opposed to him. His lungs will be bursting, but so will the lungs of the other 15 players in the scrum.
Judge him by what happens next.

Read more about Nathan on Sport24.

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