As a single man who is in the business of helping people as well as captaining my cricket team, I constantly seek out stories of inspiration to help keep me going as well as passing them on to those around me. These stories or pieces of wisdom can come from past or present, far and wide, from sources you would expect and others less so.
There can be little doubt that one of the most inspirational stories from a local, present day sporting context is the story of Jim Stynes. There can be few individuals who have so consistently defied the odds as spectacularly as Jim. With his passing yesterday, now is a poignant time to take the time to reflect on why he led such a special life and left what will no doubt be an enduring legacy.
I have compiled a list of 5 lessons we can learn from the great man.
Aim high but be prepared to start small
As a talented sportsman growing up, Jim was somewhat fortunate to be in the right place at the right time when Melbourne Football Club decided to take a punt and recruit some Irish gaelic footballers and attempt to mould them into Aussie Rules footballers. Jim saw the opportunity to pursue the dream of becoming a professional athlete and enjoy the wonders of the Aussie lifestyle. Right from the outset he aimed to be respected player who was important to his side's success. But clearly, this was not an immediate reality for him. Firstly he needed to learn how to kick the ball properly, learn the rules of the game, develop his strength and fitness to an appropriate level and survive the culture shock and isolation that comes with moving across the world (remember, there was no skype, facebook or even the internet then) to live your dreams. In the competitive world of (then) VFL football, his teammates were not immediately impressed and were pessimistic that he would make the grade. His humble beginnings belied his destiny to achieve the pinnacle of individual awards in football by winning the Brownlow medal in 1991, just 5 years after making the move.
Humble beginnings is also an appropriate way to describe his efforts in launching the Reach Foundation. Identifying that he was in a position to help young people through his status in the high profile game of AFL, he began with a couple of workshops a week mentoring youth. Little did he realise then that Reach would grow to such an extent as to touch the lives of 60,000 people in the last year alone.
To be your best and to achieve something remarkable, you must be prepared to endure some pain.
In Jimmy's fledgling football career, he made a schoolboy error that cost his side a place in the grand final. Immediately admonished by an angry coach and haunted by the mistake through constant media coverage and comments from fans, Jim decided he needed to get out of town to escape the spotlight. In Paris, he was confronted by a fan who stated, "You're the guy who ran across the mark,"
It was at that point that he realised that this incident was either going to break him or make him. He knew he couldn't erase the memory or hide from it, so all he could do is accept it and use it as his drive to be the best he could be. By creating so many positive memories that they would overwhelm that one off disaster. In the end, he could only look back on that moment in a positive way, knowing that without it he may not have become the player and person he became.
Health matters but ill health does not define you.
Jim was a fitness fanatic. He was a machine who would go on and on and on. His preparation for games was fastidious. His ability to survive torturous pre-seasons was something he drew great pride from. This foundation was a major contributor to his ability to play 244 consecutive games in the AFL. To successfully do this he knew that the state of his health and fitness could not define him nor dictate the contribution he could make to his side. He had to have the ability to know that if he was injured that he could still play and still make a difference to his side winning the game. He didn't have to be 100% to help his side. This led to him playing with 6 broken ribs and a broken hand at stages through the streak. A staggering effort.
The same attributes were highlighted in his battle with cancer. He had a mission to pursue, a family to raise and a club to support and cancer was not going to stop him. Yes, he had to make allowances for it but it was not going to stop him.
Service to others is what leaves a legacy
There have been greater players with more decorated careers than Stynes but today we celebrate his unique life because of the contribution he has made to enrich the lives of those he came into contact with. Though his great work is highlighted in his co-founding of Reach and his fundraising that ensured the survival of his beloved Demons, it is quite possibly the generosity of his spirit that is most widely reported by all who came into contact with him. Comments consistently reflect the level of interest, care and compassion that he demonstrated in people which meant he could sit down and have a conversation with anyone and have them walking away feeling better for the experience. This respect for all is what gave him the ability to achieve what he did with Reach and Melbourne.
We can achieve more as a community than we can collectively
It is clear that one man cannot achieve all this on his own. Jim knew this and it was his ability to galvanise the community through shared values that made things happen. We are social creatures who thrive on interaction and our shared talents make us more effective as a group than we could possibly be on our own. By working together for common goals, we can achieve so much more.
Finally, I think it's worth reflecting on the fact that Jim Stynes was just a humble Irishman trying to do his best. He had no delusions of grandeur, no entitlement to success and no great privileges. I think sometimes we get caught up with reputations and believe that only great people are capable of great deeds. But these great people are identified as great because they had a vision, they saw it through despite the obstacles and with a generosity of spirit were able to unite the community to achieve it. These are great things but as Jimmy has shown, even the most humble of men can achieve them.
We salute you Jimmy. RIP.