Teenager Kade MacDonald summed up depression as living in a body that fights to survive, with a mind that wants to die.
The former Barossa Rams and Burnside player tragically took his own life north of Adelaide late last year, but both his birth and rugby families devoted last Saturday to remembering the 18-year-old, and raising awareness about the insidious illness which eventually overpowered him.
The under 18s teams of the two clubs contested the inaugural Kade MacDonald Shield at Barossa’s home ground in Lyndoch, an hour north of Adelaide, and the club adopted a green theme in aid of the Kade MacDonald Foundation, established by mum Megan to raise awareness of child and youth mental health.
“She actually made the call to start a foundation on the day of the funeral,” says Kade’s father and former Barossa hooker Sam MacDonald, after he presented the home team’s skipper Joey Brown with the player of the match medal.
“It was one of those spontaneous things which, looking back, was a good call.”Both sides were stacked with players who were part of Kade’s life on and off the pitch and, after the teams made a point of thanking the supporters, the air was thick with vocal tributes such as; ‘rest in peace, Kade’ or; ’love ya, mate’ as they came from the field.
Fighting back tears after receiving his medal from MacDonald, Brown’s speech was brief but poignant; “I f***ing miss Kade. I miss him every single day,”
But the well-liked teenager’s presence was everywhere at Lyndoch, and this attitude of openness is one Megan MacDonald wants to foster through the foundation she formed in his honour.
“The family decided to start a foundation so his death would continue to resonate the risks of youth mental health in the Mid North region,” she says.
“Foremost, the foundation wants to support youth in our region, promoting pathways and wellbeing and increasing accessibility for mental health support and, secondly, so no other family has to suffer the grief and despair we have endured.”
Just like his dad Sam did a decade ago, Kade often made the three-hour round trip from the family’s home in Clare on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays to play for the Rams.
“About 10 years ago there were a group of six or so which used to come down from Clare to play senior grades,” says Sam, who runs carpentry and building business in the Clare Valley.
“A lot of us were in our mid 30s and a few early 40s, so we were well past it, but we just loved it.
“We won a premiership here, and to have my son play here ... I was just so proud that he was playing.”
It was an emotional day for the MacDonald family, just six months after Kade’s death, but the juniors contesting the shield bearing his name did their former teammate proud.
After they were piped on to the pitch, the steady patter of much-needed rain was all that could be heard during a powerful moments silence and the players were universal in their respect for 20-year-old referee, former Rugby WA Super W squad member Sophie McClure.
Burnside held off a late charge from the Rams to win 19-7 and become the inaugural holders of the shield.
But the players clearly understood the result was secondary, and there were some powerful moments shared between them post-match as they assembled for the formalities.
Representatives from youth mental health service provider Headspace were on hand throughout the day, and the green theme was enthusiastically embraced by the Rams faithful.
There was a cake stall laden with various green goodies, Barossa teams wore green socks for their matches and first prize in the raffle was a small forest of greenery for the backyard.
The colour choice was no accident, and Megan MacDonald said it signified an open dialogue about mental health and breaking down barriers in traditional thinking around suicide.
“We would like to remove the stigma surrounding the choice of ending one's life through suicide,” she says.
“Walking along the path with a child who suffers from depression, the end result being suicide, it isn't a cowardly or selfish act - walls close in and options become very limited to live a happy normal life - as some of us have the privilege of experiencing.
“Despite this horrific end, Kade was an extremely charismatic, affectionate child, who did have immense happiness.
“He managed to logistically manage many great things in his life; mates, friends, family and his girlfriend Bonnie were always at the top of his list.
“He was a formidable friend and a very loved human.”
A senior practice nurse in the Clare Valley, Megan MacDonald is already familiar with the mental health challenges facing young people in the bush, but the family carefully considered their approach after Kade’s death in how best to draw attention to the difficult issue of rural suicide.
“I was really scared that we were sensationalising it and we had a public meeting maybe three weeks after Kade’s death after some community members approached us,” says Sam, who grew up in Alice Springs, a town which is no stranger to social issues.
“We had 400 people at Clare Town Hall; doctors, specialists speaking. I was afraid, because we had this in Alice (Springs) in the 80s, where there was a follow-on effect.
“But our main objective, then and there, was to get the message out that there is help.
“You don’t have to hide. If you’re bleeding, you can put on a band aid, but if you’re thinking badly you can also go and speak to someone.
“If what we’re doing here today can just encourage people to talk about it more, if there might be one or two kids around or parents of children who have issues - I honestly believe it can have a positive impact.”
Starting with a handful of players a decade ago, Barossa Rams now field junior teams in every age group from under 6s to under 18s, providing a crucial physical outlet for rural youth at the only country club in South Australia.
“They have 200 junior players out here today. When I was playing 10 years ago they were struggling to get two senior teams on the paddock, so that’s awesome,” says Sam Macdonald.
“Kade always had a love of physical sports, but rugby was his first love,” adds Megan.
“The support for this day has been fantastic, everyone got right behind it, and we just hope it increases awareness of the importance of mental health in our society, particularly among youth.”
In keeping with the club’s colour request, many of Kade’s former teammates smeared green paint under their eyes, American Football style, before they did battle for the shield with Burnside.
The on-field exertion, combined with the late Autumn rain, had the effect of making the paint run down the players’ faces and, as they left the pitch with their arms around each other, it looked very much as if they were shedding tears of green.
Tears for their mate.
Tears for Kade.
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