Former Australian cricket captain Steve Waugh with Xavier Kitchin, 5 of Scottsdale. Xavier is one of several Tasmanian recipient of a grant from the Steve Waugh Foundation. Picture: LUKE BOWDEN

Steve Waugh's quest to help kids

29th October 2017 8:22 AM

He was known as the Iceman on the cricket field. Be it batting, bowling or captaining his country, Steve Waugh was forever cool, calm and collected in the toughest situations. Simply unflappable.

But even the Iceman's heart melts when confronted with the harsh realities associated with the cause he has dedicated his life to following retirement in 2004.

His self-titled foundation has evolved over the past 12 years to now focus solely on helping children with rare diseases and their families.

Waugh's noble work can be even more satisfying than scoring a match-winning ton for Australia.

It can also be truly heart-wrenching.

Take for instance the foundation's annual charity golf day staged earlier this year.

"We have the kids' faces and stories on the golf flags," Waugh explains.

"As I went around each hole I realised that out of the 18, nine of those kids were no longer with us.

"You get close to the kids ... then all of a sudden they are taken away."


Waugh recalls teenage brothers Bradley and Thomas Farrell, who had a profound effect on the foundation.

They suffered from arts syndrome - a disorder that causes serious neurological problems - which left them deaf, almost entirely blind and confined to wheelchairs.

"They went to a family event, and someone there had a cold and they both contracted pneumonia and died within 24 hours of each other," Waugh recalls.

"That sort of stuff does knock you around. Their lives can be very fragile."

Waugh's want to help those less fortunate began during a cricket tour to India in the late 1980s.

"We went to visit a project," he says.

"I decided from that point on to sponsor a kid for a year with World Vision or one of those organisations. That got me open to the concept of being involved."

That desire only intensified after meeting Mother Teresa, the Catholic saint known for her lifelong dedication to charity work around the world, particularly in India.



Steve Waugh meets Mother Teresa at her morning mass. Picture: Trent/Parke
Steve Waugh meets Mother Teresa at her morning mass. Picture: Trent/Parke PARKE TRENT

"Her impact on so many people around the world... it is pretty incredible," Waugh says.

"It was only a fleeting sort of moment where we talked. But I think it just gave me some inspiration that maybe I could play my small part down the track.

"Obviously you can't emulate what she did or achieved, but if everyone aims to help in their own little way that certainly helps."

Like Mother Teresa, Waugh, too, endeared himself to India's cricket-mad population. Of course, there were battles he waged on the pitch against its national team, but also those even more profound away from the spotlight.

Most notably, in the late 1990s Waugh committed himself to raising money for a Calcutta colony housing children with leprosy.

He would visit often and sing, dance and even perform yoga with the underprivileged kids who would look upon him as a god.


Australian cricket player Steve Waugh hugs Laxmi Kumari, 10, daughter of a leprosy patient, during his visit to Udayan, at Barrackpore, 46km north of Calcutta, India in2002. Image:AP Photo/Bikas Das
Australian cricket player Steve Waugh hugs Laxmi Kumari, 10, daughter of a leprosy patient, during his visit to Udayan, at Barrackpore, 46km north of Calcutta, India in2002. Image:AP Photo/Bikas Das AP

Waugh would always encourage his teammates to learn about and enjoy the countries they visited on cricket tours, but none have immersed themselves as much as the man who grew up in the south-western suburbs of Sydney.

Waugh would retire in 2004 as one of the greats of the game, with 168 Tests and 10,927 runs to his name, and having led his country to a win at the 1999 World Cup and a still-record 16 consecutive Test wins.

No one cherished the Baggy Green cap more than Waugh, and he was renowned for wearing the same one given to him on debut in 1985 - albeit resewn here and there over the years.

But after playing his final Test in Sydney in 2004, it was the end of Steve Waugh the cricketer and the beginning of Steve Waugh the philanthropist.

"When I retired from cricket I wanted to start a charity," the 2004 Australian of the Year says.

"I've always been inspired by people who fight against the odds, overcome adversity, and show courage and character.

"Obviously when you're playing cricket, that's the most important thing a lot of the time. Your form is important, you want to do well.


Australian captain Steve Waugh appeals to the umpire for the wicket of Englands Robert Key during day 1 of the 5th Ashes test at the SCG in 2002.  (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)
Sydney, December 2, 2002. Australian captain Steve Waugh appeals to the umpire for the wicket of Englands Robert Key during day 1 of the 5th Ashes test at the SCG. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins) NO ARCHIVING DEAN LEWINS

"But after you retire you realise that it is a sport... and there are bigger issues at play."

After much research and many visits to hospitals, Waugh and his wife Lynette realised who the Steve Waugh Foundation could best serve.

"Kids who have an extremely rare condition, who don't get support from any other charities or government funding," he says.

He says rare disease patients are the "orphans of the health system ... often without diagnosis, without treatment, without research and often without hope".

"Without us they literally have nowhere else to go," Waugh says.

"I guess we're the last lifeline for a lot of these kids and their families."

A disease is considered rare when it affects one in 10,000 people.

Young Cooper is one of just a handful of people in the world living with Mosaic Trisomy 13, a chromosomal disorder which can lead to severe intellectual disability and physical abnormalities.

The foundation has provided Cooper with 12 months of speech therapy.

"In my case I have poor eyesight, low set ears and am small in stature with poor muscle tone, gross motor and fine motor skills. My rare disease can create difficulties in many areas, but improving my speech was my goal," he writes on his foundation "bio''.

Waugh says the foundation provides ongoing support.


Steve Waugh with Jakob Engley 5, who is one of only eight people in the world who suffers from CHOPS Syndrome. Image: Phil Hillyard.
Former Australian cricket captain Steve Waugh with Jakob Engley, 5. Philip Hillyard

"We give holistic support, so it's not just a one-off involvement. We've been with some of the kids for over 10 years now.

"Each story is inspiring. Each one we've come across has made huge improvements.

"Their attitude is what continues to amaze me. They just get on with it, never complain, make the most of each and every day.

"They are great role models for all of us."

As part of the foundation's fundraising efforts, the Captain's Ride was initiated in 2015.

This year's event has taken on a new element with the kids involved in the advertising campaign to raise awareness, drawing pictures that are then turned into figurines, "which is pretty amazing", Waugh says.

The foundation has partnered with a 3D sculpting company.

"A lot of these kids are non-verbal ... they can't communicate by talking," Waugh says.

"Drawing these pictures... it makes them feel special, makes them feel even more connected to the foundation

"We've really loved this year's campaign."

Waugh himself has become a picture of fitness after getting himself ready for this year's 801km Captain's Ride through Tasmania, starting November 4.

He will be joined on the seven-day trek by former Formula One driver Mark Webber, AFL great Adam Goodes, and Tour de France winner Cadel Evans.

"I've been working hard. I did some training in the Italian Alps a few months ago," the now 51-year-old says.


Steve Waugh. Contributed by Salty Dingo 2017
Steve Waugh. Contributed by Salty Dingo 2017 Salty Dingo

"That was nearly the end of me, going up there. It was the hardest thing I've ever done by a long way.

"I do feel stronger for it, but at the time I was cursing the person who suggested it."

The kids, though, keep him going - the 1507 he and his foundation have supported so far and the many more to come.

"The ride is about giving people a life challenge. We want to emulate the spirit of the kids," he says

For more information or to donate, click here.