Shaun Spence doing great things

Former Wests Tigers player Shaun Spence on overcoming depression and finding his ‘reason’
December 28, 2017 5:46pm
Nick WalshawThe Daily Telegraph
SHAUN Spence keeps a small blackboard beside his bed.

On it, Find The Reason handwritten in chalk.

Which is why, each week, this energised 26-year-old trains a group of homeless men at Concord Oval.

And why recently, he signed on as head coach of Australia’s Physical Disability team, too.

Elsewhere, Spence works with prisoners. Alcoholics and disengaged high schoolers.

All up, responsible for some 60 programs as Wests Tigers Community Engagement manager.

“Although initially,” Spence says, “that phrase on the blackboard … it just meant find the reason for getting out of bed”.

That was four years ago.

Back when Spence wasn’t a Tigers staffer, but player.

Remember him?

No shame if you don’t.

Especially given his NRL career was consigned to only nine games in 2013.

But concussions?

Spence endured almost twice that.

Over a few brief years, his brain smashed so badly — and often — he still suffers headaches and bouts of forgetfulness now.

“So I’ve learned to keep a full calendar,’’ he says. “Write plenty of notes, too.

“I can also predict when the headaches are coming now. If there’s an evening where I’m forgetting things, yeah, I know the next day will be rough.”

And it’s because on one occasion, Spence was kayoed so badly his ear drum collapsed. Seventh-tenths of it, gone altogether.

Afterwards, the young prop unable to recognise even his girlfriend of three years, Rochelle, when she anxiously entered the sheds.

“Had absolutely no idea who she was,” he says.

And still, Spence wanted to play on.

“But the doctors, they warned of the brain damage becoming permanent,’’ he continues. “There were already problems.

“But they said I if stopped playing, I was young enough for that to rectify itself.”

And so, Spence quit.

Aged 22.

Which is when the depression arrived.

“Because my life’s goal,’’ he says, “it was gone.

“As an NRL player, I was probably bottom five per cent when it came to skills. But that meant I’d worked really hard to get there.”

Doctors also told Spence that, because of his brain trauma, depression and anxiety would be intensified.

And they were.

A darkness that hung heavy through acupuncture, medication, counselling, the lot.

“Yet there was one particular session,” the Griffith product recalls, “where the counsellor called me out.

“I was talking about missing that buzz of being a footballer — the two minute bell, running out in front of crowds, celebrating a win in the sheds — and without saying I was arrogant, she replied ‘do you really believe footballers are the only people to get that?’.

“She told me doctors, parents, everyone could achieve it. We just have to work out where.”

Find The Reason.

Like his new gig with Australia’s Physical Disability team.

Apart from helping attract a new sponsor, NOVA Employment, Spence has also brought on Penrith retiree Kevin Kingston as assistant
“And to be involved with these guys, it’s amazing,’’ he says.

“We were in New Zealand recently and (former Kiwi coach) Frank Endacott’s son was playing. Gary has cerebral palsy; and if he hits the ground after a tackle or run, he can’t get to his feet.

“Yet through the game, you’ve got team-mates, opponents, everyone rushing in to pick him up.

“And to be part of that, to be around such special people, it honestly gives me the same buzz I got playing.

“Most days, this team’s teaching me more about passion, perspective and energy then I could ever teach them.

“These players, they’re my reason.”

beyondblue 1300 22 4636

Can’t help but feel sorry for the bloke given the health problems he went through, but kudos to him for showing the same grit and determination in making his life a success off the field. Good story that plenty of people can take heart from.

Good bloke is Shaun
He couldve chucked the towel in….says a lot on his attitude with what hes doing now.
Good on him.

Terrible that his career ended prematurely. Great that he’s still involved at the club though. I’ve met him, really nice guy.

Good luck Shaun. Great work by the club to put such an effort into community engagement.

Shaun Spence is doing a great job at the Tigers. So happy for him.

What a great story! There would be some doubt that this type of thing would have happened a few years ago, so it says lots about the “new” Wests Tigers under the current management regime.
No-one could have predicted the very impressive change in the culture at the Tigers.
Congratulations to Shaun and I hope this has set him on a very successful path for his future life. I hope the Club gives us any significant updates on Shaun’s work.

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