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Community work leads to brighter lives

Building a personal connection with young patients and their families fighting some of life’s toughest battles has seen North Queensland Toyota Cowboys second rower Tom Gilbert praised for his community work.

VOTE FOR TOM >>> nrl.com/community/awards/ken-stephen-medal

The club’s 2021 nominee for the Ken Stephen Medal had a rough start to the year with injury but used his time out of the game to volunteer with Brighter Lives, the official charity partner of the Townsville Hospital and Health Service.

Tom was recovering from a broken leg sustained during training late in the pre-season when he decided to offer his support to the charity, making visits during his time away from club duties.

Tom has since played a pivotal role in promoting fundraising and health initiatives to draw attention to the Brighter Lives cause.

Brighter Lives CEO Tanya Busoli praised Tom’s personal authenticity in his volunteer work.

“Given the high number of charities and important causes in Australia it can be very challenging to secure support for even a once-off activity, so to receive a proactive approach from a player was wonderful for us and an indication of Tom’s interest and commitment to truly be involved,” Ms Busoli said.

“Tom has made regular visits to the hospital to meet patients and he conveys a genuine interest in their lives and experiences.

“These patients may have been in hospital for days or weeks, and as the tertiary referral hospital for North Queensland, patients can come from far afield and have only one support person with them.

“To have any visitor is a blessing, but to have a player from the North Queensland Toyota Cowboys – particularly in North Queensland where we are very passionate about rugby league – is a magic moment for them.

“It’s wonderful to see all the smiles on the children’s faces, and they are able to forget for a couple of hours why they are here.”

Tom has sat on the floor in the children’s playroom racing cars and on child-sized chairs colouring in pictures engaging with patients and families across all ages, cultures and abilities.

It is this personal interaction with others that conveys the impact Tom's making on the families he meets and the charity’s work.

But it isn’t the only contribution Tom has made in his community, having also been involved in club-led initiatives including Adopt-a-School, Try for 5! and Field of Dreams.

He also helped launch the Townsville Hospital and Health Service’s 10,000 Steps Tournament, promoting physical activity across their employee base.

Tom said drawing attention to the cause of Brighter Lives helped change his outlook during his own recovery.

“To see what some of these kids go through, I’m pretty fortunate to be in the position I am as a footy player,” he said.

“I’ve been really fortunate to meet some kids who’ve been going through a hard time, and it really allowed me to put things into perspective.”

The Ken Stephen Medal recognises the efforts of NRL players who have not only achieved on the field but have committed time off the field to community projects.

Players are nominated for the Ken Stephen Medal by each of the 16 NRL clubs in recognition of their off-field community and charity work, while also considering each player’s on-field record.

The fan vote winner will pick up $3,500 for their junior rugby league club, while the 2021 Ken Stephen Medallist will win $3,500 for their charity of choice and $3,000 directly.

For more information about the Ken Stephen Medal and to vote for Tom, visit nrl.com/community/awards/ken-stephen-medal