My name is Liam Twomey, and I’ve written a bit about my life this week leading into Essendon’s Tackling Childhood Cancer game on Saturday – a game pretty close to my heart.
I’m a Melbourne boy and Bombers supporter since day dot. Not by choice exactly, but necessity. It was red and black or you’re out under Dad’s roof, and I liked having a roof over my head, so I acquiesced early on.
Back in 2001 at the age of seven, I was diagnosed with a Ewing sarcoma cancer in my right leg. As a result, I spent most of the year in and out of the Royal Children’s Hospital receiving chemotherapy, and in August 2001 had my right leg amputated below the knee. I’ll admit I wasn’t going to be lining up at the MCG for a game in the future, but having the chop definitely ruined my chances.
During this time, I was lucky enough to get involved with Challenge, now a charity partner of the Bombers. Challenge does great things supporting children battling cancer and their families. It’s a double-edged sword, because yes you’re unlucky to get cancer in the first place, but very lucky to join the exclusive Challenge family. It’s a lifetime membership that doesn’t expire.
One of the perks for me in 2001 was getting two tickets to the Grand Final between Essendon and Brisbane. Given my brother and Mum took the tickets because I wasn’t in the best shape, the loss to the Lions was a sad cherry on top of a tough year.
On top of that, I was lucky enough to have Damien Hardwick come in to visit me at the Royal Children’s. He was my favourite player at the time, and while he’s moved to the dark side with the Tigers and fallen down my ranks quite severely, it’s a solid memory.
At the time I found the change quite simple; get up, learn to walk, learn to run, go play with my mates. Young kids are more resilient than most adults in my opinion, so I was lucky in a sense to just adapt to the change so easily. As I got a bit older though, I found dealing with being an amputee really difficult. I just wanted to be like everyone else. I thought I was the black sheep, because out of the 1500 kids at high school, I was the only one missing a leg, so I didn’t rate my chances of getting through unscathed. I found a pretty toxic solution in drugs and alcohol as a result.
Don’t get me wrong, I had a lot of fun as a bit of a hooligan through high school, but I also experienced some pretty horrific lows, caused a lot of damage to my family and friends, and ended up in some pretty bad places. As the years ticked along, the fun slowly disappeared, and all I was doing was using drugs and alcohol to numb the pain I felt about my life, and how much of a victim I thought I was for losing my leg.
At 21, I was lucky to have a light bulb moment. I woke up and just realised I didn’t want to keep living the way I was, that I had only three options left: die from what I was doing, go to jail, or get clean. I took the latter. I moved interstate and changed everything, to try to get a clean slate and start afresh.
With a lot of time and energy on my hands, I threw myself into sport as a pastime. Sport has helped change and save my life in more ways than I can describe. I fumbled through a few sports, learning how to swim again at the ripe age of 22. I was lucky to stumble into triathlon a few years later, and found something that I wasn’t half bad at.
Fast forward a few years, and I’m training and competing full-time as an elite athlete to try to represent Australia at the Paralympic Games in the paratriathlon.
It’s pretty common for me to spend most days wondering whose life I’m living in, and this is not where I expected to be five years ago. Have I had a few curveballs over the years? Yes. Have I maybe created a few of those problems myself? Guilty. Am I any stronger than the next person because of it? Highly doubt it. I’m just an average bloke that’s had a few tough experiences.
I think everyone has a story, though. An adversity they’ve had to overcome, a battle they’ve fought, or a circumstance that wasn’t in their favour. Yes, mine are a little more noticeable and in your face, but everyone has their ‘thing’. I think everyone also has the ability to get through whatever they’re facing and come out better and stronger on the other side.
Resilience is defined as ‘the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties’. That’s a quality everyone has. Whether it be at home, at work or in sport, learning to push through and grow when faced with challenges is something everyone can respect. And if this year has shown us anything, it’s that we’re all capable of adapting to change and becoming better for it.
I’m feeling incredibly grateful to be an Essendon supporter this week because of the Tackling Childhood Cancer game. For the Dons to lend support to such a great charity in Challenge over the years is just great to see, because it’s doing so much to spread awareness, raise much-needed funds and make a few kids’ days pretty special.
Hopefully the boys get up on Saturday to end 2020 on a high note and put a smile on a few little Bombers fans doing it tough at the moment. I’m always proud to be part of the red and black army, but a little bit more than usual this week.
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