Majak Daw, a comeback story for the times
No one had the heart at that point to detail exactly how improbable that ambition seemed to them when they looked at his injuries, which meant he would need to learn how to walk again.
On the contrary, North Melbourne decided to keep that dream alive for Daw even ensuring the surgeons kept in mind that ambition when doing their miraculous work to repair the 27-year-old’s battered body.
Everyone knew those helping Daw reclaim his mental health would benefit from having a football-filled light waving at the end of the tunnel and the club was a perfect place for him to recover, even if the chances of him ever playing senior football again seemed remote.
Head of conditioning Alex Moore led a team devoted to helping Daw’s body recover, while Daw worked on his mental wellbeing with psychologists, the support of his partner, Emily McKay and extended family. Teammates and his backline coach Rhyce Shaw – who is now his senior coach – were constant visitors to hospital, standing beside him throughout.
Daw was on an Alter-G running machine by April 2019, raising his right fist to punch the air in a now familiar yet shy expression of triumph that has accompanied each of the biggest steps in his comeback.
It signalled a man whose journey had provided so much hope to so many of the city’s often marginalised African community, who was enjoying and accepting the support of those who loved him for being himself, a transformation in outlook that everyone at the club noticed with pride.
In August last year, Daw and his partner Emily had a baby boy, Hendrix, as he recuperated from a hamstring injury suffered in the VFL – an occasion that would have surely seen the fist punch the air. Then, he missed round one when forced to miss training after experiencing flu-like symptoms.
A pectoral muscle tear before the season’s resumption threatened again but Daw kept coming, refusing to accept he would not make it back.
Along the way he became a beacon of hope for those battling with their mental health and a voice of reassurance for anyone needing a reminder that life can rebound from bleakness.
“Life’s pretty hard. There are obstacles that get in the way, and we are seeing that with everything going on with COVID,” Daw said on Wednesday.
“There are a lot of people struggling but if you have the belief that it’s gonna turn, it can. I was really determined to make it back to help other people.
“For me to be able to work back to playing AFL footy, hopefully that gives people hope that they can get back to doing things they once loved.”
Post-game, with a goal next to his name, Daw’s grin was wide and full of life.
Peter Ryan is a sports reporter with The Age covering AFL, horse racing and other sports.