• The game caters for men and women, young and old with varying disabilities. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Down but not out - how a disabled Indigenous sportsman stays in the game.
Kris Flanders

The Point
18 Apr 2017 - 3:28 PM  UPDATED 20 Apr 2017 - 9:35 AM

I first met Todd Dorward at last year’s Indigenous Combined Nations versus the All Stars match. That day I was one of the “able-bodied” players and wore the Indigenous jumper alongside Todd – who I found out that day in the warm-up was both vision and hearing impaired. However – Todd was one of the best players on the day; doing quick runs and catching the defence unawares.

The game caters for men and women, young and old with varying disabilities from cerebral palsy to amputees, and is the pinnacle representative game in the NSW Physical Disability Rugby League competition.

I knew 43-year-old Todd had a story worth telling when I found out that not only does he play rugby league, but he also plays FUTSAL (indoor soccer) and has played blind cricket for over 25 years. He’s even donned the sky-blue of NSW in representative cricket as well as the ACT. Iin sporting terms Todd is an all-rounder.

But it wasn’t just his amazing skills on the sporting fields that made him such a worthy subject  – the talented lad is also a deadly artist who says painting is therapeutic for him.

“It just feels very spiritual to me and just comes out naturally. Free flowing and it opens you up and heals you too. It's very calming for me,” he told The Point.

For someone who only discovered his true Aboriginal identity later in life, painting has been a way for Todd to reconnect with his culture and further tap into his Indigenous roots.

“It makes me feel stronger with who I am,” he says. “More at peace and more at ease with myself. Knowing who I am.”

A passionate sportsman and a brilliant artist; not bad for a man who has no vision out of his left eye and has to wear a hearing aid.

Todd was born with congenital rubella syndrome which occurs when the rubella virus in the mother affects the baby in the first three months of pregnancy.

Symptoms include a cloudy appearance to the eyes due to cataracts, deafness, heart defects and developmental delays.

“About a month premature I think, something like that, and yeah I was a pretty sick baby. Nearly did not make it to two months old, it was that bad,” he says.

“Very fortunate to go to North Rocks School for Blind Children. Both hearing impaired and vision impaired, which worked out good. At first, I was a bit of a loner, not used to them due to the fact that I couldn't talk till I was five years old.”

So how does a player with barely any vision and a hearing impairment play rugby league?

“It appears a little bit smaller and blurry. And plus my eye movement does affect it a bit and I can't really recognise their faces from ten meters away unfortunately,” Todd says.

“I see by the colour of their shorts and I know who's who. I can hear them over there but in this side, I can't hear that side, so I have to look around. Which is a bit hard to do sometimes when you're thinking quickly on your feet. I don't mind being hit, okay it happens, I try a side-step as much as I can and run hard straight in an open gap.”

Todd has played Blind Cricket for 26 years and along with his amazing team mates, makes the game look simple, but there's plenty going on, and their available senses are on high alert. The ball is larger than a normal cricket ball, but not hard leather and is filled with ball bearings which creates a rattling sound.

“Sometimes it's very, very hard to pick it up. It can be very glary and you gotta be ready for every ball,” he says.

“Yeah what I like about batting is basically playing every ball as it comes and just enjoying doing the best I can with my shots, you know, just do the best I can with every ball.”

Later this year, the Indigenous Combined Nations will take on the All Stars in their annual clash, Todd will combine his love of rugby league with his flair for painting. The Indigenous players will wear a jersey with Todd’s design on it.

It doesn't get much better than that for all-round sportsman, artist and proud Aboriginal man.

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