CHRIS HEIGHINGTON NOMINATED FOR KEN STEPHENS MEDAL
23/09/2010 4:41:49 PM
Chris Heighington is a trojan on and off the field. The relentless work rate that we see him go through week in week out is matched off the field where he spends much of his spare time doing community work. From spreading the word that ‘Its not cool to be cruel’, to helping struggling kids read, Heighno is an inspiration to all those that cross paths with him.
In honour of his tireless work, Wests Tigers have this year nominated Heighno as its 2010 Ken Stephens Medallist nominee which is awarded to an NRL player, who has not only achieved on the field, but has also committed time off the field to community projects.
This week we sat down with Heighno to discuss the upcoming awards and how he feels to be nominated as this year’s Wests Tigers Ken Stephan Medalist.
1. The club has nominated you as a Ken Stephen medallist this year - can you tell us what kind of community work you do?
During the past few years I have been the Ambassador of the program ‘It’s not cool to be cruel’. The program is based around Anti Bullying and trying to teach kids that everyone needs to be treated equally and that it isn’t right to single one person out if they are different. The reason I got behind this is I have seen firsthand while I was at school the effects of bullying and I see it as a real issue in society and one we need to fix.
Over the past few months I have also dedicated some of my time to helping out young kids who are struggling with their reading at the Exodus foundation intensive reading centre in Ashfield. I had heard of the work that Exodus Foundation do with their reading program as well as their Loaves and fishes restaurant in which they feed hundreds of homeless people each day. I was asked to go along one day and help the kdis read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Since then myself and a few of the other guys have started going along on a more regular basis to help out with the young kids.
2. What’s the main reason behind the community work that you do?
By becoming a professional footballer I have been very lucky to be able to live a comfortable life without too many serious issues. I have seen just how lucky I am to have the life I lead and the support I have. I realised that many people don’t get the sought of privileges I do and therefore I decided to try and use my name and profile that playing professional Rugby League has given me to help others in a positive way. I realise that a good way of doing this is by trying to prevent the problem occurring in the first place instead of fixing it once it has occurred; therefore I focus my time on the Anti bullying program and reading centre. I realise that these young kids look up to me as a footballer and that they really listen to what I say and therefore I can really make a difference in their lives.
3. Is there anyone you’ve met so far in the community who has inspired you?
I was fortunate a few years ago to be able to visit a young guy, Dave McArdle in hospital. Dave had been at the site of an accident and was trying to help out and save the life of a passenger in the car when another vehicle crashed into him. Consequently he lost both his legs and was therefore in a bad way in hospital. I heard of his story and that he was a Wests Tigers fan and therefore I visited him in hospital to see if I could cheer him up a little. Dave was so happy to see me and he had a really positive outlook about his future which was amazing to see. It just struck me about how much I can make a difference to someone’s life by doing such a small thing like visiting them in hospital. To the day I still keep in contact with Dave as he has become a life member of Wests Tigers and I was fortunate enough to attend his wedding a few years ago. I still think about our first meeting and draw inspiration from it when times are tough with footy and it makes me puts things into perspective and get on with things.
4. We know you have a sense of humour - have there been any times that made you laugh or cracked you up?
It always makes me laugh when I walk through the Exodus Foundation and listen to some of the people waiting for the Loaves and fishes restaurant to open, just hearing some of their stories and their sense of humour certainly makes me laugh at times.
Also the kids in the reading centre certainly bring you back down to earth. They talk to you like a normal person and don’t care who you are, they still pay you out for doing something bad in a game and really crack me up sometimes.
5. Nathan Hindmarsh won the award last year for his work in Rwanda and children’s charities, how would you feel if it was you who won the award?
It would be an absolute honour and privilege to be recognised alongside guys like Nathan Hindmarsh and Wayne Pearce for doing something I take enjoyment and pleasure out of doing.
But, as much as I’d love to win this award, it is just an honour to be recognised by the club as the Community person of the year. To be in contention for the Ken Stephens medal is just an added bonus.
Through being involved in these awards I want to be able to use my increased community profile to increase awareness of my chosen charities and help out with as many kids as possible.
6. You’ll be sharing the spotlight with a lot of grassroots volunteers on the night, plus club of the year, what do you think of all the work they do?
It’s great to see these people recognised for the work they do, they are the real backbone of the game and without them the game doesn’t exist really. My Mum was a volunteer when I was growing up, working in the canteen so I know how passionate they are and how much they mean to the game. At Wests Tigers we have a host of volunteers that make game day run smoothly, guys that have been around Balmain and Western Suburbs since before I was born so its great to see them recognised.
7. How important is it for your club to reach out to the community, and that the game recognises community work?
I think it it’s great to see the Wests Tigers increasing its community work and setting up programs that make a difference in the long term instead of doing the one off’s all the time. It’s satisfying as a player to be able to see the happiness on people’s faces after working with them for a long period of time and seeing how much we can really help. It’s also great to see One Community using the NRL’s brand name to develop programs in schools to help out where there is a real need for it.
8. Can you describe what you get out of your community work?
I use my community work as enjoyment and a chance to take my mind off the pressures of professional Rugby League. It also extremely satisfying to know that by taking just 1 hour out of my day to help out can make a massive difference in a young person’s life for a long time to come.
The winner of the award is announced next Monday at the One Community Awards which will be held at Sydney Town Hall. Wests tigers thank Heighno for his contribution on and off the field and wish him good luck in the awards.