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The autobiography of a true trailblazer, Sudanese refugee and AFL champion, Majak Daw.
At the peak of his powers, and with the world at his feet after a breakout season in the Australian Football League (AFL), the North Melbourne Kangaroos' Majak Daw was on the verge of finally becoming one of the AFL's bona fide superstars - but it all came crashing down.
After secretly battling years of mental health issues, the Sudanese-born phenomenon leapt off the Bolte Bridge in Melbourne in a shock attempt to end his life.
Daw's story is like no other and the reason for his shocking fall in December, 2018, has been left untold, until now.
When he burst onto scene in 2009 as an 18-year-old rookie with little experience, Daw captured the attention and imagination of hundreds of thousands of people and became an inspiration to countless others in his community as the game's first African-born player.
Daw's journey through life and into the elite levels of Australia's most popular sport was anything but smooth and along the way, he faced and overcame many unique challenges including one that almost cost his life.
After fleeing war-torn Sudan with his family at the age of eight in search for a better life, Daw along with his mother and six siblings spent a number of years in Egypt fighting for a new beginning and a sense of belonging.
Forced to find full-time work at just nine years of age in a furniture factory to help his mother put food on the table and make ends meet, Daw was subjected to bullying and racism in an unfamiliar country full of people split by strong religious beliefs and prejudice.
Eventually Daw and his family were granted entry to Australia and there, they sought refuge made a new home in Melbourne's south-west but again, they still battled to fit in.
In his early teenage years, Daw finally found something in common with other students, when he discovered the game of Australian rules football through an invitation to play kick-to-kick during lunch at high school. After experiencing the sport for the first time, he was quickly dubbed a 'natural' and convinced his parents to allow him to play. As Daw's skills grew, so too did his network of friends and prospects of playing the sport at a professional level.
Explosive, athletic and able to do things on the football field other players could only dream of, Daw's talents were undeniable and soon garnered the attention of AFL recruiters around the country. His remarkable rise, despite having picked up the game at such a late age, turned heads and started to make headlines as club's began to jostle to acquire Daw's signature. It was North Melbourne that eventually won out, offering Daw a rookie contract and in doing so, making his dream of playing in the AFL a reality.
Daw's breakthrough made news overseas, such was his accomplishment and from the moment he slipped on the club's famous royal blue and white striped jumper, he was a media sensation with journalists and photographers following his every move. Daw was arguably placed under more scrutiny than any other player in his position had ever been before and was somewhat weighed down by unfair expectations and responsibilities. Not only did he have to fight to keep his dream of playing in the league alive, but he was also expected to be a role model for migrant youth and speak for his community, as the city around him was being gripped by a wave of 'African gang' violence and crime.
Through it all, Daw was a beacon of hope and was a constant example of perseverance and determination. He stood tall in the face of vicious racial vilification, shattering runs with injury and the disappointment of not making the Kangaroos' senior team.
Three years after joining the Roos however, his time finally arrived and Daw made history when he was handed his first game in Round 4, 2013 against the Brisbane Lions. It was a dream start for the forward/ruckman who managed to take a mark in the opening minutes and kick the first goal of his career - not that he'd remember it. A short time later, he was knocked unconscious in an awkward tackle and was taken into the rooms with his night ending prematurely. Daw would bounce back, like always, and three games later he set the Docklands Stadium alight with a brilliant six-goal performance against the Western Bulldogs.
Daw's position in the North Melbourne senior side was never secure, although he always showed plenty of promise, and he continued to experience much turbulence including being charged and found not guilty for three counts of rape.
In 2018, Daw's stars finally aligned when he found a regular spot in the North side as a defender - a role he had not filled before. Playing on the AFL's biggest and best goal-kickers, Daw became an effective stopper and was ranked in the 'elite' category for his performances. While on the outside things were looking up and North was in the throws of offering him the biggest contract of his career, Daw's private life was in tatters. Mental health issues, a volatile relationship with his then pregnant girlfriend, the fear of becoming a father and alcoholism, were tearing Daw apart from the inside. At his wit's end and feeling like there was nowhere else to turn, Daw made the decision to end it all. But his story didn't end there. Miraculously, he survived the 25-metre plunge into the icy Yarra river below but suffered horrific hip and pelvis injuries. Daw had been given a second chance at life and was determined to make the most of it.
Following an operation that would give him the chance of playing the game he loved once again, Daw embarked on a painstaking rehabilitation program and defied the odds to not only walk again, but run, jump and eventually compete at the highest level with a comeback game that many thought would never be possible.
A true trailblazer, Majak Daw's life has been an inspiration, particularly to those who have struggled to belong, felt oppressed or dared to dream big and had to fight for everything they have.