Iconic Queensland rugby league figure, Wally Lewis, recently announced his latest adversary: a diagnosis of dementia, likely the result of years of head trauma sustained across his remarkable football career.
Speaking candidly with 60 Minutes during a telecast on Sunday, Lewis unfolded that he was experiencing the debilitating effects of a neurodegenerative condition medically termed as CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy).
A direct consequence of this disease compelled Lewis to step back from his cherished role as a sports presenter at 9News Queensland earlier this January.
“For tonnes of sports blokes, I reckon the majority of us adopt this mindset that we need to display our toughness, our resilience, and if we dare to raise our hand and request for empathy, then we’ll be labelled the quintessential cowards of the game,” Lewis expressed to 60 Minutes. He added, “But we’ve got to confront it and confess that the problems exist.”
Following his brain surgery in 2007 due to an epilepsy diagnosis, it was lapses in short-term memory, such as forgetting a birthday or repeating a story, that marked the first signs of concern for Lewis.
His partner, Lynda Adams, recounted a revealing incident in which Lewis unknowingly repeated the same story multiple times within a span of few minutes during a car ride. Lewis admitted that such instances were highly embarrassing for him.
He further detailed a struggling encounter with a routine cognitive test, one that formerly boasted the achievement of ex-US president, Donald Trump. This distressing outcome underscored the gravity of his situation.
He explained, “In one of my initial appointments with the doctor, she asked me to remember simple things – like five random items, something like a bus, dog, truck, camera, chair.” Despite multiple repetitions, Lewis could only recall two out of the five items afterwards.
“Pride’s an incredible thing, but there wasn’t abundant of it in that moment,” he confided.
As the confirmation of CTE is only possible post-mortem via brain tissue analysis, the fact of his condition remains in the realm of well-informed implications by expert practitioners.
His neurologist, Dr Rowena Mobbs, argued that Lewis’s condition was very likely CTE, a result of lifelong repetitive head injuries from countless tackles. Dr Mobbs qualified her ‘guesswork’ with a 90% certainty, drawing from her specialist expertise in dementia.
She admitted to being somewhat awe-struck upon Lewis’ visit, expressing a deep sorrow for the devastating diagnosis.
Despite the significant impact on his health, Lewis admitted that he would not alter a single aspect of his 14-year professional rugby league career. He reminisced about how he loved the game, the privilege he felt, and the invincible feeling of donning the representative jerseys, particularly the Australian one. Lewis concluded on a sobering note, acknowledging the deceptive sense of invincibility that comes with athletic peaks.