Western Force player Nathan Charles and his girlfriend Verity Simmons a netballer for the Queensland Firebirds. Photo: Kym Smith
Western Force hooker Nathan Charles on battling cystic fibrosis and playing for Australia
NATHAN Charles doesn’t consider himself a hero.
But the 25-year-old Western Force hooker is attracting a whole new legion of fans off the field.
Charles is the only professional athlete in the world known to be playing a contact sport with cystic fibrosis, a condition that affects the lungs and digestive system and currently has no cure.
His parents were told he would not likely survive to celebrate his 10th birthday, but Charles has defied all odds to achieve his wildest dreams.
“When you say hero and inspiration, I mean those are two pretty big words and I don’t see myself as that,” he told The Sunday Times.
“I don’t see myself any differently to the average Joe. But some people do put you up on a pedestal and carry you as those sort of things and if I can be an inspiration and a role model to some people then I’m extremely humbled by that – especially if people are inspired by my story and it allows them to drive for more in their life.
“I feel privileged to be able to do that for someone.”
Charles, who must take a cocktail of medication and natural vitamins each day, has been nominated in the Courage category of the Pride of Australia awards for overcoming personal adversity with courage, determination and strength.
The average life expectancy for a person living with cystic fibrosis in Australia is 37.
As a national ambassador for Cystic Fibrosis Australia, Charles helps fundraise and create a greater awareness of the condition to help find a cure.
Last month, he made his Test debut for Australia in an achievement that Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie described as defying “science and logic”.
“I really enjoyed the experience and I’ve just got a taste of it and want more now,” Charles said.
“It’s a goal I’ve had since I was a kid. To be able to have that opportunity and take it with both hands, was an exciting prospect and I just want more. It’s quite addictive.”
The former Sydneysider who now calls Perth home credits his parents, David and Heike, with much of his success.
“I was looked after and they really encouraged me to exercise and I participated in every sport you could probably list when I was young – exercise is the best medication,” he said. “(My parents) were a great support. They drove me all around Sydney to different sporting events and I thank them for where I am today.
“Perth is my home now and I do see it as somewhere post rugby, whatever I’m doing, I’d probably like to settle down here. I love it here. I’ve got a great adopted family here and friends and this is where I want to be.”
Charles’ partner, Queensland netballer Verity Simmons, is also a professional athlete who must juggle a serious medical condition.
Simmons has type 1 diabetes which makes her insulin dependant.
“So I have about five or six needles a day,” she said.
“It takes its toll. It’s very hard to get my levels right just with nerves.
“It’s a struggle but I don’t mind a challenge at all.
“I just want to beat it. Be on top of it.”
The couple met in Perth when Simmons was playing with West Coast Fever.
She was doing charity work for Diabetes WA while Charles was supporting Cystic Fibrosis Australia.
“He’s a very inspirational human,” Simmons said of Charles.
“He’s a very good egg.”
This year, The Sunday Times’ Pride of Australia awards are celebrating their 10th year of recognising ordinary West Australians achieving extraordinary things in 10 different categories.
The categories include Outstanding Bravery, Courage, Young Leader, Child of Courage, Care and Compassion, Inspiration, Heroism, Fair Go, Environment and Community Spirit.
Please visit http://www.perthnow.com.au/news/pride-of-australia for more information.