Life perspective that’s fit for a King
ALMOST 30 years since he last pulled on a Maroons jersey, Wally Lewis is in a very good place.
Fresh from celebrating his 60th birthday late last year, the man hailed as one of the greatest rugby league players of all time says these days he is more comfortable enjoying life as a husband, father and grandfather than a State of Origin legend.
His media career is going from strength to strength, the health scares of more than 10 years ago are behind him and he's even signed up as an ambassador for George Hartnett Metropolitan Funerals.
"I'm certainly in a very good place at the moment," Wally reveals.
"I'm very comfortable with life and have reached the point where I've realised that I'm not afraid of growing old.
"It wasn't something I ever expected, but it's a nice place to be."
Wally says his health battles before being diagnosed with epilepsy in 2006 started reshaping his outlook on life and the arrival of grandchildren had been another big step before his 60th birthday last December.
His current collaboration with George Hartnett Metropolitan Funerals on its "Live in the moment: Live on in the memory" campaign had also helped him put life and death in perspective as it urges people to think about how they would like to be remembered after they die.
Wally says the question made him stop and consider what was important to him.
"I think most sportspeople, when they are going through the highs of their career, see themselves as being invincible, and I was no different," he said.
"I was 10-foot tall and bulletproof but you get to a point in your life where you really have to stop and consider what's important and how you want to be remembered after you die.
"I had a serious health scare before I was diagnosed with epilepsy in 2006 and it made me
seriously think about my own mortality.
"I had struggled with epilepsy for many years but it took having a seizure on national television to make me confront it. While I wouldn't call that a highlight of my life, it did change me forever. When you get to experience something like that, it gives you an appreciation of the time you have in this world and how you want to spend it with those closest to you. That can never be undervalued.
"I sat down and considered how I wanted to be remembered and I realised I already knew most of the answers.
"I know that I want to be remembered for much more than my football career. First and foremost, I'd like to be remembered as a good husband, a good father and a good grandad.
"My own dad was a huge part of my life and I hope I've lived up to that example.
"I'd also like to be remembered for my personal struggle with epilepsy and work in raising awareness of the condition."
Shooting a video for the funeral home campaign took Wally back to Bill Cash Memorial Park, in the Brisbane suburb of Cannon Hill, where he and his brothers played for the Cannon Hill Stars after their parents, Jim and June, bought their first home nearby. It was there his rugby league career began at the age of six and he said memories came flooding back as he sat beside the field.
"Mum and Dad still live in Cannon Hill and I know the area very well. I went to school just 250 metres from the field and I drive past virtually every night on my way home from work and look at it and remember plenty of good times," Wally said.
"I have so many special memories of that ground but one that stands out is the coaches saying, 'When you go onto the field proudly wear the jersey and proudly display it and let that play a role in your performance'.''
"That was something that stuck with me all these years later when I was pulling on a Maroons jersey - be proud of the jersey and let it show in how you play the game."
These days, Wally is more likely to be found on the golf course after becoming "hooked" on the sport while playing with Brisbane club Valleys.
"Valleys coach Ross Strudwick and a player by the name of Ian Sommer used to play golf every week and one day I asked them, 'Why do you play golf?," Wally explained. "They said it eased the tension, gave them something to think about besides footy and it was fun.
"So I gave it a go and quickly found out that was an accurate assessment and I'm still playing almost 40 years later."
Despite not getting on the course as much as he would like, Wally said he was welcomed with open arms every time he headed for a round at Wynnum course.
"No one looks twice because they're used to seeing me. That's what I like about it," he said.
"I'd love to be playing more often and had a dream of getting my handicap down to single figures but the best I achieved was 11 and now it's out to 17.''
He might be busy with his television career and other media commitments but Wally said these days his family came first.
"They are the centre of my universe. The births of Jamie-Lee and her brothers, Mitchell and Lincoln, are the proudest moments of my life. I'll be honest, I cried my eyes out every time."
He said his new outlook on life included a new perspective on dying.
"I think most people fear death - it's inevitable but not something you are ever going to invite into your life earlier than it should be," he said.
"I don't want to die - I'm having too much fun growing old. These days my life is all about family and there's nothing I love more than having them all over for a barbecue or a game of footy, playing with the grandkids and just spending time together.
"Those are the memories I want them to keep of me when I'm gone."