You don't have to look far to see where Newcastle Knight star Shaun Kenny-Dowell gets his toughness and inspiration: his dad John lost a leg at age four in a freak lawn mowing accident before going on to become a gold medal winner for New Zealand.
In fact John, competed at the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games, winning a gold and silver medal in the javelin and shot put events.
"My dad's always encouraged me to follow my dreams. He has been the biggest influence on my career. He coached my junior rep teams in the Waikato and he's been with me the whole time as a rugby league player," Kenny-Dowell said.
"Growing up, dad always had problems with his prosthetic leg, whether he was doing the long jump, running 100 metres or playing touch footy with us on the beach. He'd fall down, get back up minus the leg and always make everyone laugh."
The sometimes controversial footballer who now calls Newcastle home will share the stage with Knights coach Nathan Brown and rugby sevens representative Shontelle Stowers at the Port Stephens Men of League fundraising dinner to be held at Nelson Bay Golf Club on Saturday, May 25, from 6pm.
Tickets are $60 a head.
Kenny-Dowell says football played a major part in his upbringing in NZ, and talks candidly of how he was hugely upset when, at age 15, the NZ Warriors cut him from a squad of 100 players.
"It was really disheartening. I had been travelling two hours, three times a week to train with their development squad," he said.
"I was a young kid who only wanted to play rugby league and, in New Zealand, the only path to the NRL was through the Warriors. So I made the decision to try my luck in Australia and at age 16, with my dad and two mates I moved to Sydney hoping for an opportunity.
"I had watched dad push through the hard times and watching him go through life that way not only showed me but laid the foundations for me to see what it takes to be successful. So, his message to me about moving to Australia for footy was, 'If this is what you want to do, let's do it'."
The father and son stayed in backpackers in Coogee for three months before eventually Shaun's mum and sister made the move across the ditch.
"One of the Roosters under-18s coaches heard there were three Kiwi boys going quite well with the Clovelly Crocodiles and gave us an opportunity to train with the SG Ball side. I contacted a manager and was offered a contract with the Panthers. I was close to moving to Penrith when the Roosters heard about the deal and offered me a counter-contract which I accepted."
Within 12 months, having just turned 19, he was named to make his first-grade debut in round one of 2007 against the Rabbitohs.
"They were great times. It was really satisfying to see the sacrifices that my family had made for me pay off. Also, my own hard work. I had belief in myself after being told I wasn't good enough and it had been vindicated."
Kenny-Dowell went on to win a grand final, get named international centre of the year and represent his country.
Now a star winger with the Knights, Kenny-Dowell has also found himself in the media for the wrong reasons, which he has not shied away from.
"While I don't want to go into detail and dredge up the past, I will say that having a relationship break-up being played out in the media the way it did was one of the hardest times I've ever been through and a big turning point in my life. I have learned so many lessons from having gone through that.
"I had some mental health counselling and became far more aware of how living a healthy life, getting help and speaking about your problems has an impact on your state of mind. After discussions with both the Roosters and my family, I took time away from football and ended up in a rehab clinic."
Kenny-Dowell said that joining the Knights was not just about a fresh start and getting out of Sydney, "it was about growing as a person and taking on a leadership role as a senior player. I was keen to embrace that responsibility".
He is now studying a course in psychology, behaviour change and wellness coaching.
He also champions the cause behind the charitable Men of League Foundation, and says he is looking forward to returning to Port Stephens.