Former rugby league player Sam Backo was a force to be reckoned with on the field, playing for top teams like Canberra Raiders, Brisbane Broncos, and Leeds in the United Kingdom. Known as “Slammin’ Sam”, Backo stood at an imposing height of 188 centimetres and weighed in at 115 kilograms. He left opponents in his wake, earning six test caps for Australia against New Zealand and Great Britain. However, it’s his seven state games for Queensland and his standout performances in the 1988 State of Origin series that remained close to his heart. In his own words, “I always thought State of Origin was the toughest football I’ve ever played in.”
Now, Backo faces a different challenge as he fights to recover after undergoing a quadruple bypass surgery. He is currently in the Intensive Care Unit of Prince Charles Hospital in Brisbane. Backo’s health took a turn for the worse when he had a massive heart attack while undergoing double knee replacement surgery in Cairns. He attributes his survival to already being in the hospital, “If I wasn’t already in hospital, I wouldn’t be here now. They put three stents to keep me going, and then I got transferred to Brisbane. So, I’ve got to be happy I was where I was when it happened.”
Backo’s recent health battle has been a particularly tough chapter of his life, considering the physical, mental, and emotional toll it has taken on him. Despite going into a coma following his heart attack and being clinically dead for around two minutes, Backo refuses to give up. His strength is an inspiration to many, and he hopes it can inspire the Maroons to a sweet triumph in Game One of the State of Origin series.
Backo has received well-wishes from across the board, even from NSW players. He feels the support from former opponents speaks volumes, and it goes to show the camaraderie present in the rugby league community. However, Backo has a long road ahead of him, with medical procedures and rehabilitation ahead.
Perhaps one of the most inspiring facets of Backo’s life is his source of strength. He draws inspiration from his mother, Dr Evelyn Scott. Dr Scott was a well-known advocate for reconciliation and the advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and women for more than thirty years. Google honoured her legacy by featuring her as one of their Doodles on the search engine’s homepage. As Backo shared, “Mum, to me – she’s my hero. Mum’s role in Aboriginal affairs – it’s something we’ll always be proud of.”
Backo hopes his recent experience serves as a wake-up call to other Indigenous Australians, health agencies, and governments. He believes that First Nations people should receive better health checks and check-ups earlier in life. As he shared, “They don’t do a comprehensive health check until you’re 65, and being Indigenous, our lifespan is less than non-Indigenous people. If you’re Indigenous and 45, or even younger, go and get your heart checked.”
Slammin’ Sam has played his role in rugby league to the best of his abilities. He has also endured his recent health battles with resilience and determination. It is hard to say whether this chapter of Backo’s life will make it into the headlines of newspapers, but one thing is for sure – he is a fighter, and he is not backing down.