The Robert Connor Dawes Fund

I am truly delighted to announce that What A Racquet will be actively supporting an amazing new charity recently set up to help young people with brain tumours.  Read about The Robert Connor Dawes Fund below

You know, sometimes, in the world of competitive junior sport we get so caught up in our quest to help our child achieve their dream that we begin to lose sight of what is important in our world.

Perspective came to me back in April of this year in a deep and profound way when the son of a friend passed away peacefully at home in Sandringham, Melbourne, with his family by his side.  Connor Dawes was 18 years old and his, and his family’s, journey has been both devastating and inspirational for all who know them.

Connor was an exceptionally bright young man; he was one of those boys at school who was liked, respected and admired by everyone, peers and teachers alike: gifted academically, handsome, tall, sporty, witty; he had the whole world at his feet and his future looked very bright indeed as he had great plans to go back to his birth country of the United States after graduating high school at Brighton Grammar to row for his chosen university of Stanford.

When he was diagnosed with a brain tumour in November 2011, at only 17, Connor and his parents had to make (as his mother, Liz, describes) a full 180 degree turn from Plan A to face his diagnosis and find a way to fight this devastating curved ball that life had thrown him. Every attribute that Connor had, his intelligence, his courage, his determination, his physical strength, and even his wit, had to be redirected into the fight for his very life. At the same time, naturally, every parental instinct of his parents had jumped into action in full force to do everything that was humanly possible to protect their boy from the worst possible adversary which is every parent’s worst nightmare.

Sadly, the major surgery to remove his tumour had devastating results in that he suffered loss of movement to his right side, impaired vision and severe short term memory loss. But, as Liz wrote in her updates to friends and family, his body was broken but his mind was not. Every ounce of his being and determination was put into getting better even in the face of radiation and later chemotherapy, as his tumour returned and grew.

Connor’s positive outlook and smiling face throughout the pain and trials of his treatment was merely the tip of the iceberg of what was so inspirational to everyone who knew him and his family. A perfect example of this level of inspiration was how, when his school set up a fundraiser to help the family, his classmates had wristbands made with the Latin inscription “Aeternum Fortis” meaning ‘Eternal Strength’. This motto has became so synonymous of Connor’s spirit that not only was it embraced by his whole school community an beyond, but ended up also being printed on the training shirts of the Stanford University rowing team after their coach heard Connor’s story.

Connor’s own constant affirmation and personal mantra was “I Will Be Awesome” and he was true to his word to the last and beyond.

He was, and still is, a credit to his parents, Liz and Scott, two lovely souls who moved to Australia from America many years ago and ended up embracing the Australian way of life with gusto, raising their 3 fabulous children as footy and rugby loving Aussies still with strong ties to their native US.

What is truly remarkable about Liz and Scott is that within 4 months of Connor’s passing they have set up a charitable trust in his name to help other young people and their families, who are in the grip of the devastating effects of brain tumours is both breathtaking and humbling. Connor’s courage and grace during his illness caused him to rethink his future and he knew that somehow he would help and be of service to others and Liz and Scott saw his passing as no reason to change that intention.

The Robert Connor Dawes Fund (RCD Fund) capitalises on Connor’s initials to follow a 3 pronged approach to their fundraising goals.

Research – contributing funds to Australian brain tumour research. Liz tells me that government funding to childhood brain tumour research falls very short of research into adult equivalents.

Care – Supporting families with rehabilitation therapies and home assistance not covered by insurance and is over and above their life saving treatment; therapies such as yoga, pilates, physio therapy, occupational therapy, music therapy, art therapy as well as palliative care at home are all treatments which benefit ill patients but are a big drain for families already financially challenged because of huge medical bills. 

Development – Helping to keep the mind sharp. Connor was a passionate, gifted and talented student who loved learning. The RCD fund will help with the educational needs of other young people going through brain tumour treatment, and aims to provide a secondary education to a gifted student who otherwise couldn’t afford it.

The first major fundraising event for the RCD Fund will be a fun run called Run for Connor, on the 15th September 2013, to commemorate his own 18.8km run which he did 2 months before he was diagnosed. Connor was training to get into the 1st VIII rowing team for his school, Brighton Grammar. It was a big dream for him. As part of his own, self-devised training program he decided to run from his home in Sandringham to the Brighton Grammar Boat Shed on the Yarra River in central Melbourne, a mere distance of 18.8km. This run has become important in many ways, not least as a symbol of this remarkable young man’s determination to achieve his goals but also the most fitting way to remember his spirit and get the fundraising ball rolling for RCD Fund.

You can read more about the RCD fund and Connor’s run here. (It’s easy to register if you want to run and if you don’t want to run you can donate by buying a t-shirt)

I registered my whole family to do it. Crazy I know. Especially as I am sure I am allergic to running and any running I do is usually limited to running a bath, but I am told that I don’t need to actually run, I can walk or skip or cartwheel if I like, and to be fair, I’ve signed up to the shorter distance of 9.6km.

Although I suspect it shall be more of a stumble than a run, I feel, after what this family has been through and the grace with which they have faced the last 18 months, the very least my family can do is join them to raise some money in their remarkable boy’s name to help others in need.

Nothing like a bit of perspective to kick me in the butt and make me find my own bit of awesome inside.