A little after eight o’clock this morning, Jim Stynes (45), a former Australian Rules Football Hall of Famer, philanthropist, father of two young children, and legend, died after a long battle with cancer. In 2009, Stynes announced that he had developed cancer after tests indicated that a growth in his back was cancerous and had spread to other parts of his body, including his brain. In 2010 his condition had worsened and he had to have surgery to remove tumors from his brain. Throughout his tough battle, he had to have several surgeries to fight the menacing cancer.
Stynes, a native Irishman, moved to Australia when he was 18, never having played Aussie rules, and managed to land a spot on a Victorian Football Association team. A few years later, he made his debut for Melbourne. At the age of 25, he won the most coveted AFL award, the Brownlow Medal, and became the first and only non-Australian to win. Throughout his career, Stynes won various awards and eventually made it into the AFL Hall of Fame in 2003.
He, like Cal Ripken Jr. (a name that might frequent the dinner table conversations; at least a few years ago), epitomizes endurance and perseverance. Each, having accomplished the most consecutive game starts without an absence in their respective sports, persevered to accomplish their goals as a player and a teammate. Stynes still holds this record with 244 consecutive games played in the AFL (Cal Ripken Jr. played in 2632 consecutive MLB games). Quite a feat considering there are around 22 games in an AFL season each year, not including post season. It would have been a miracle to see this man play without injury for 11 years in one of the most intense sports in the world!
His perseverance was not easy, that’s for sure! In 1993, his streak almost ended when he was rushed to the hospital for a compound rib fracture. Convincing his coach at the time, he managed to pass the club fitness test to play the following Friday night. In 1994, he suffered a ligament tear but proving his resolve, he pushed on to play through it. His streak finally ended in 1998 when he broke his hand early in the season. He finished his career with 264 games played with Melbourne, placing him second all-time for most games played in a Melbourne Demon sweater.
Stynes, like the “Iron Man”, was devoted to helping the youth through sport and motivational endeavors, such as writing books and speaking. Stynes founded The Reach Foundation, with whom he became very devoted to after finishing his AFL career. The Reach Foundation, according to their website, “believes that every young person should have the support and self-belief they need to fulfill their potential and dare to dream.” Stynes, along with Paul Currie, founded Reach in recognition that “greatness in young people [is often] hidden behind fear, anger or hurt.” What an inspiration!
Teachers and those who have any influence on the youth have a lot to learn from Stynes, also a qualified teacher. If I learned anything today from reading about him and his life it is this – teaching should incorporate the desire and will to inspire every young person to believe in him or herself and to get the most out of life.
It is one thing to have positive influence on students, jump-starting them into a life full of honesty and desire to do well, but it is another thing to inspire young people to believe that they can get the absolute most out of their lives. In my opinion, the best place to start to accomplish this student-mentality is in school. I frequently wonder why some students constantly question the point of school. My answer usually is simple – they don’t value their education and don’t understand the implications it has on their community or even the world.
I have truly become inspired to help my students understand the ramifications of not trying hard in school. There will always be students who are not interested in any type of social reform, and have openly accepted the status quo, but today I learned that I need to influence students to get the most out of their lives, and accepting the status quo cannot be acceptable. It just isn’t the mentality of a global citizen.
I have found a new role model and hero today, and it is sad that it was on the day of his death. Jim Stynes, a two-time Victorian of the Year (2001, 2003) and 2010 Melbournian of the Year (not surprisingly), has a legacy that will live on forever, especially if people learn from his life as an influence on the youth. A true Australian legend!
For more information about Jim Stynes and The Reach Foundation, use the links below.