The rise and fall of Baggaley
SURF and sun-streaked hair, riding the waves breaking off the Pacific swells - the Northern Rivers lives of youngsters Nathan and Dru Baggaley growing up in Byron Bay was an idyllic Aussie lifestyle.
Part of a strong and happy family, the brothers would never have foreseen the oncoming crash of their aspirations and dreams.
Their love of water and sports was shared with a great bunch of mates hanging out as part of Byron's tanned and healthy surf club families as little nippers, then fun-loving teens volunteering their time as surf club life savers.
They belonged to a Catholic family that held solid values, taking an active part in the St Finbarr's community.
Athletic, friendly and competitive, Dru was regarded as a mentor and leadership role model that all young nippers looked up to. But his involvement seemed to fade off in later years as surf club members recalled seeing him out drinking heavily and frequenting popular Byron nightspots like Cheeky Monkey's.
Each brother was known to be pursuing individual goals; Dru to study, then become part of the family oyster farming business, and play competitive rugby.
Nathan focused on his Olympic kayaking dream - unsuccessful at Sydney 2000 but winning two silver medals at Athens 2004, and wanting a crack at Beijing in 2008.
By then cracks were al- ready forming that would end the golden days as they headed toward making the destructive choices that would so publicly wreck their lives in national shame and humiliation, devastating to their supportive parents Sue and Noel.
In letters to the Lismore District Court Judge James Black, Nathan, 33, portrayed his life as being “exemplary” before his “short period of stupidity”. He revealed his pain, anger, and how gutted he was when, after representing Australia for 10 years as an elite athlete, he was suspended from his sport in 2006 on what he called a drug “technicality”.
“I trained four times a day six days a week,” he said.
“This took a lot of commitment and sacrifice, but I enjoyed the challenge. It wasn't until I was suspended that I found myself in trouble.
“I lost my livelihood, my friends, my structured life and worst of all the respect of my peers.
“I struggled to accept the punishment for an offence I didn't commit. I also struggled as I was cut off from what I truly loved, as I had put so much of my time and life into my sport.”
He said he was “cut off” from any support from the Australian Institute of Sport.
“I felt cheated, as only three years before I had received the AIS's most prestigious award, Athlete of the Year. They celebrated my success, yet when I found myself in trouble I was ignored and left to fend for myself.
“I had sacrificed gaining a trade or a profession in order to pursue my sporting dreams and representing my country.”
With his sport stripped from him Nathan was left with no work opportunities and fell into deep depression. Partying excessively and pretending to be happy, the Olympian regularly used ecstasy to “forget about my problems”.
Life looked brighter as the end of his AIS suspension neared, with Nathan developing a kayak-making business and training hard for future competitions and hopefully Beijing.
When Dru was unable to pay back Nathan's loan (meant to help with his oyster leases), Nathan, who wanted his money to compete overseas twice helped supply ecstasy to two of Dru's clients.
“I did not receive money from them. The only reward I would get was that Dru would get back on his feet and I would get the money back,” Nathan said.
In his letter to Judge Black, Dru, 27, revealed the awful impact on his life after he came close to death when glassed in a savage attack outside a Gold Coast surf club in April 2004.
He became angry when his attacker received a light jail sentence.
But there had also been the devastation of the Baggaleys' oyster-farming business, his family suffering financial hardship following a 1998 chlorine spill into the Brunswick River that destroyed their oyster leases.
He abandoned his tertiary studies to help support his family financially, and then as a result of the stabbing suffered from ongoing post-traumatic stress disorder.
He became addicted to gambling and became involved with the criminal drug world.
"I was led deeper into the drug scene by a number of older persuasive people," Dru wrote.
“I believe they used me to generate themselves money... a gross misjudgement on my behalf. I never had dreams to become filthy rich and I never lived the high life."
Dru's parents described him as the most sensitive of their three sons, with a strong community spirit, who had worked with Byron's indigenous youth, and who had an ability to connect with people from all backgrounds.
They had since realised what “dire effects” the attack on Dru had had on his mental wellbeing.
Nathan will serve five years jail and Dru eight years.