Close the Gap hits home for Tyrone Roberts
Despite living only an hour down the road, Gladys Roberts didn't watch her son Tyrone make his debut for the Gold Coast Titans in Round 1 this year.
In fact, Tyrone can't exactly remember when she last saw him play in person.
After two heart attacks the thought of a long walk to the stadium and any stairs that may rise up in her path is enough to cause Gladys to be short of breath so she prefers to sit at home and watch her boy do his thing.
"She loses her breath after she walks like 100 metres or so, so it's always something that she has to take into consideration," Roberts says.
Any time a family member suffers such serious health issues you are forced to face their mortality head on which is why this weekend's NRL Indigenous Round is more than a campaign to Tyrone Roberts; he's trying to defy a statistic that says he will live a decade less than his non-Indigenous teammates.
'Closing the Gap' goes beyond life expectancy and encompasses such things as differences in education between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, but it is the dramatic differences in life expectancy that hit hardest for Roberts.
Now a father to 18-month-old Leilani, Roberts told NRL.com he is trying to change the behaviours of those closest to him so that his daughter can be part of a generation with comparable life expectancy.
"The chronic diseases that are affecting us are terrible," Roberts says ahead of the Titans' Monday night clash with the Roosters.
"I want to see my kid grow up that's for sure and at this stage I think they're slowly getting things changed.
"There are a lot of kids who haven't got an education and what it takes to grow up and live even longer.
"You start smoking when you're at school and then drinking becomes a habit because it's just part of our culture.
"It's the lifestyle then and the routine. Get paid, pay some of your bills and then next thing you're on the drink again. It's just a continuous thing and affects the body long term.
"We still see it [in our family], uncles and aunties still drinking and doing the same thing that they did when they were younger. The stories they tell when they were younger, they used to drink way before I would have started drinking.
"It's affecting them now so I just want to set an example so that I can live longer than what's expected now."
Roberts will marry his partner Brittney in October this year and credits the decision of his parents to send him away to Newcastle to seek an education for giving him the grounding to be successful.
The 24-year-old says education is the key factor in breaking the cycle of poor lifestyle choices and already intends to work in Indigenous communities promoting good health when he finishes playing football.
Roberts was sent to Newcastle at 14 years of age and while there were times he questioned whether he wanted to stay there, he acknowledges now what influence that had on his life and that of his young family.
"That was a big move for them because I was only 14 and I was the oldest son and they sent me away and I got my education," he says.
"I didn't realise at the time what the benefits would be but every time I went back home I would see kids my age doing the exact same thing I did when I was there.
"That was something I realised and really hit home after a couple of years of staying in Newcastle and I'd never look back.
"The only time I didn't go back was when I first moved when I was like 15. After the first year I got to like it and I started making some rep sides.
"They sent me back there because they knew it would be better for me. It was either that or they got sick of me being a pest."
Now, with a wedding on the way and a daughter to raise, Roberts has even greater motivation to help close that gap with education and awareness.
"It just makes me look to the future now," said Roberts, who admitted that he might shed "a couple of tears" when Leilani serves as a flower girl in October.
"I used to just live in the moment and not thinking about the future at all so it's totally different.
"It's not about me anymore, it's about what's best for my family and to close the gap.
"I want to give back to the community when I'm finished. I want to create an awareness and educate the young people how much it does affect them."