“We got told four years ago Jayden would not make friends and not go to a normal school and look at him now.”
That’s what proud mother Nichole Andrews said about her son after he played in his first Basketball grand final, and won his first ever medal.
Jayden suffers from Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
The facts are blaringly obvious, yet the story for all families who suffer from Autism suffer in silence. More people will be diagnosed next year with Autism than cancer, diabetes and AIDS combined.
Jayden’s father, Melbourne Rebels High Performance Coach Mark Andrews, and his family used to sit amongst that silence. Not out of shame or pity, but they didn’t feel the need to ask for help. They didn’t want to waste anyone else’s time.
Like many humble hard working parents, the Andrews believed in fate and fortune and that somewhere in time the script had already been written. They just needed to trust the journey, and it’s story unfolding.
This is a story of the RaboDirect Rebels and Spectrum Superstars.
It began earlier this year, when a group of Rebels players, including 2013 stars Lachie Mitchell and Jarrod Saffy, noticed a photo posted on Facebook of Mark and his family. His kids, painted blue like Brave Heart warriors, and Mark dressed like a “trendier version of the blue wiggle.”
The event they were preparing for was a march for Autism Awareness. Unannounced, these players came and joined the family for the walk. A simple gesture from these players that went on to inspire a young club to play it’s part in making a significant difference in many families lives.
From there the word travelled around the club swiftly, not by a staged email of “can you help?” but organically through a simple thank you note from Mark to those who supported his son’s walk. It wasn’t so much the question anymore that Mark couldn’t ask; it was more a recognition of “what can I do”.
The old cliché of ‘ask and you shall receive’ was tipped on its head.
Nichole Andrews formed Spectrum Superstars, and a march along he Yarra had now been turned into a Marathon around Melbourne, and a Sporting Legends Fundraiser Dinner.
Led by CEO Steve Boland and GM of Commercial Operations Christine Finnegan, the club has become a major sponsor of the charity and has thrown their total support behind Spectrum Superstars. Although a huge surprise to Mark, it wasn’t for the CEO.
“This club has achieved so much in its first two season’s in this city because of the quality of people in the organisation. The support that has rallied around Jayden and the Andrews family demonstrates a small part of some very special things happening in this club,” said Boland.
“I stress the word ‘club’, because we are ultimately that. We are here for our own and the community”."
Mark was also quick to thank all staff that have helped in supporting Spectrum Superstars.
“The Rebels membership team have been outstanding” said Andrews.
“Kelley Musster and Leanne French have been unbelievable in the day to day running and organisation of our charity for no money or fanfare.
“Nathan Grey, David Rundle, Zane Leonard, Paul Percy, Ivana Majdandzic and Kelley Muster have entered into the Melbourne Marathon and are personally raising money through sponsorships for their run.
“James O’Connor has gone above and beyond in his support gathering charity items from people such as Quade Cooper and Buddy Franklin as well as offering to shave his head if we reach a certain target, something which I am sure would surprise people but shows what sort of person he truly is.
“I am so proud of the club, not for them donating time and money, but proud of the fact that players are coming forward with their own stories about families and friends, like Caydern Neville and Kimami Situati. This is about awareness as much as it’s about raising funds.”
The average family with an Autistic child spends between $30,000-$50,000 per year on intervention. Government funding for families is less than $3000.
That’s a stat that never sat comfortably in the heart of the Andrews, and now the path isn’t just to help their son Jayden, but to also help many other kids like Jayden and their families.
“We are hoping to raise enough money to get as much therapy for the kids as possible. We all know early intervention is crucial for our kids and the more therapy we can give them at this age the better,” Nichole said.
In sport, we often lead with the headline act. A new signing, a big win, or a star players performance. But the true worth of any organisation, like the Andrews family’s cry for help, can be lost in the echoes of silence. A sporting club isn’t just about a team that takes the field, but about a band of people rallying around one common purpose.
Sport, in particular rugby, has the power to impact lives, but we always feel that’s done through ‘entertainment’. This past few months the RaboDirect Rebels stand to impact many lives through rugby, without a ball being kicked or a maul being had.
Click HERE to watch a clip Spectrum Superstars has put together to help raise Autism Awareness and how it effects people, families and friend living with Autism.
Click HERE to purchase tickets to the Spectrum Superstars Sporting Legends Dinner hosted by Adam Freier, and featuring Stirling Mortlock, boxer Sam Soliman, former Melbourne Storm captain Robbie Kearns and Collingwood Football Club legend Peter Daicos. DJ Cooper Vuna will provide the entertainment.
You can support Spectrum Superstar by visiting www.spectrumsuperstars.com or contacting Nichole on 0451944744.