Rowe's brave battle with cancer

Carlton's Sam Rowe has his mark spoilt during a match against the Brisbane Lions.
Carlton's Sam Rowe has his mark spoilt during a match against the Brisbane Lions. Warren Lynam

IT WAS like any other team meeting.

Deep-vocal mutterings, the occasional cheer if someone came in to the theatrette slightly later than the rest of the group.

Brett Ratten stands up to speak, the din dies down. This week's opposition are analysed, the training structure is presented - the next part is the sound of footsteps and conversation as we all file out again, ready for training.

Instead Ratts, heads for the door and in come the rest of the Carlton support staff. Everyone's here.

Then "Rowey" walks in last and takes centre stage in front of all of us. Normally a man with shoulders back, chest out and a knockabout expression on his friendly face, a different Sam Rowe stands to address the playing group.

"Boys…"

It's all he can muster before his voice cracked. The theatrette was as quiet as it was in shock, bracing itself for news that was going to be far from good.

It was there and then that Sam Rowe, taken at pick 44 in the 2011 National Draft and just four months into his tenure at Carlton, announced that he had Stage 1 testicular cancer.

I imagine as hard it is, and certainly was for Rowey, to tell your loved ones and friends, hearing that someone you know has developed cancer is just as difficult.

Rowey was the second personal case I'd heard of someone who had cancer. The other was my favourite English teacher in secondary school during my final year.

Just like in that team meeting, I can remember the mutual feeling of being completed sapped upon hearing the devastating news.

I first met Sam on his first day at Carlton, the day after Wayne Hughes informed him that the Blues would be giving him a second chance at playing the sport he loves at the highest level.

The boy from the country NSW of Walla, just a short drive north of Albury, was rookied by the Swans just after their powerhouse years of consecutive grand finals.

Toiling away for two years, Rowey was then delisted at the end of 2007.

The Swans described Rowey as "a project player…seen as a key position/ruckman player, Rowe proved a real competitor in his first season, chasing, tackling while being exceptionally mobile and quick for his height."

Knowing Rowey now, it's this disappointment in his football career that's made him both the footballer and the man he is today.

He speaks fondly of his experience at the Swans and of their culture that sees them perched upon the top of the ladder.

For Rowey, it was a fear of taking his opportunity. He's often said he regrets not having more to do with then-coach, Paul Roos.

He walked away from his final meeting at the Swans, having been informed that his services were no longer required, with a feeling of frustration of not being able to capitalize on an opportunity that, for many, only comes around once.

Yet, within Rowey, as his character suggests, he moved to away from home, switched states and became the focal point of the attack of the Norwood Redlegs in the SANFL.

He set about making the most of his new life. He broke his way into the footy club, he set about beginning a three-year apprenticeship as an electrician and he made a friendship with a medium-sized defender with a like-minded appetite for the hard yards.

Nick Duigan then disappeared off to Carlton. Twelve months later and the Blues acquired another Norwood boy was being asked by Michael Jamison whether he'd brought over any sunscreen for the hot, Melbourne summer pre-season at Visy Park.

Before Rowey's emotional announcement, the news itself wasn't completely out of the blue.

Rowey hadn't trained for one or two sessions. When asked why, Rowey gave a cheeky, laid-back smile, his answer as straight as an arrow, "Twisted nut." Little did we know what it would actually come to be.

Yet at the time, Rowey's dry sense of humour then, matched his final sentence of that fateful declaration: "I guess the moral of the story is, fellas, always play with your nuts and you'll be sweet."

Rowey later said he was glad that he at least got that joke out. He had more lined up, yet simply the overwhelming effect of the news swept over him to the point, that stringing words together was the sole focus.

Typical of Rowey, despite the news, he wanted to be treated like he always had been before; no event was to change people's perception of him.

To his credit, albeit a few weeks of intensive chemo, Rowey came to club everyday. He chatted to everyone, offered boundless encouragement to his peers and pestered the club doctor to allow him to do something - anything!

Our club doctor, Ben Baressi, was almost getting sick of Rowey to point he'd shut his door if Rowey was within a ten-metre radius of his office. However, persistence paid off and now, just over a month into resuming running and regaining all his hemoglobin from the radiation of chemotherapy treatment, Rowey now sets his sights on the Sydney City2Surf run - a 14km run from Sydney to Bondi Beach.

His bubbly nature unwavering and his strength an inspiration to his teammates, Rowey is a true leader.

His experience of being at two clubs is invaluable to teach the younger boys to value the opportunity of being on an AFL club list.

In the Carlton development group of rookies and first-to-third-year players, he is the voice of knowledge and reason and for the rest of the playing group he's simply 'Rowey' - one of the boys.

On August 12, Rowey will run around the city that for two years, in a previous life, he used to call home. No longer is he the lightly framed forward from the little town of Walla.

He is Sam Rowe, donning the number 17 on the back of a navy blue Carlton jersey. That's what he wants to be remembered for, not the guy who got testicular cancer and lost all his hair.

Come August, he may well be running up Heartbreak Hill in Sydney's eastern suburbs, but nothing will break the spirit of Rowey. Nothing.

Topics:  afl, aussie rules, cancer, carlton, health, sam rowe



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