A broken leg before the start of the NRL season was a cruel setback for Tom Gilbert, but the Cowboys prop's injury was put into perspective by his hospital visits.
Enthusiastically involved in several community initiatives, Gilbert has been nominated by North Queensland for the NRL's prestigious Ken Stephen Medal, proudly brought to you by Your Local Club.
Gilbert's voluntary work with the Brighter Lives Foundation, the official charity partner of the Townsville Hospital and Health Service, has given the 20-year-old a heightened feeling of gratitude.
"I got in touch with the [Brighter Lives] CEO, Tanya Busoli, about doing some work there. She just went above and beyond and organised all these visits for me when I'm free," Gilbert said.
"I visit some kids that are doing it tough or have spent some time in hospital dealing with issues. Two things I get from it – one, I get to see kids and put a smile on their faces, and the second thing is it makes me feel very fortunate that I was never in that position.
"It's really good for me to get a sense of reality. There are people that do it tough and my life's pretty good when I compare it to them."
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An experience at the Josephine Sailor Adolescent In-Patient Unit, which provides mental health care, particularly moved Gilbert.
"I spent two hours with a couple of girls, they were about 15, 16 ... It just felt like they were getting better from the position they were in. I guess it felt like my time there was valuable," he said.
"I just saw a couple of girls who are going through a really tough time in their life smile for a bit and enjoy their day. I know they're struggling, from talking to the people that run the centre, but to see them happy … just made me feel like there was hope for them."
Elsewhere, the forward – who has played nine first-grade games this year – has been a positive presence at St Clare's Catholic School through the Adopt-a-School program and a passionate ambassador for Cowboys initiatives like Try for 5! and Field of Dreams.
He also launched the Townsville Hospital and Health Service's 10,000 Steps Tournament, promoting physical activity.
"Being up here [in Townsville] for four years since high school, I felt that my connection with the community was probably better than it had ever been before and better than it was when I lived in Brisbane as a kid growing up," said Gilbert, who made his NRL debut last year.
"I felt that it was time to find a way to give back. North Queensland is a battling community – there are a lot of things that go on here [including] high youth crime, unemployment.
"[Considering] how people look up to the Cowboys, it was an easy opportunity for me to give back through my profile."
If Gilbert wins the fan vote – which will decide one of four Ken Stephen Medal finalists and closes on August 8 – he will earn a $3500 cash prize for his junior club, Norths Devils, in Brisbane.
"I know Norths Devils will spend the money right and it would help kids of that region on the north side of Brisbane to get the best quality out of being part of Norths Devils," he said.