Rugby-mad lad with grit to boot

Andrew Easton is passionate about rugby and would love to eventually become a Sky sports...
Andrew Easton is passionate about rugby and would love to eventually become a Sky sports commentator. Photo by Linda Robertson.
For rugby-mad teenager Andrew Easton, the worst part of being in a wheelchair is not being able to play his beloved sport.

Andrew (13), who has the rare Leigh's syndrome, used to play for St Josephs Blue.

"I think I was hooker/side of the scrum. I was pretty strong in the scrum or the ruck," he said.

Since he "landed" in a wheelchair, he has concentrated on being an ardent supporter of the game, backing "the Highlanders, Crusaders, anyone".

"I'm a big rugby supporter for North Otago. If I'm not at the game, I watch it on Sky TV," he said.

Asked his favourite rugby player, he paused: "That's the toughest question I've been trying to answer myself for years.

"My favourite All Black would have to be Anton Oliver, even though he's not there any more, or else, Carl Hayman . . . because they are Otago boys.

"I've got to support Otago boys."

Andrew, who has just finished year 8 at St Josephs Primary School in Oamaru, was awarded the Trudi Johnston Medal of Courage this week.

The medal is presented each year to a year 8 pupil.

Trudi Johnston had cancer while she was living in Oamaru and a pupil at St Josephs. She later developed a brain tumour and died in Christchurch in 2006, aged 26.

Andrew was a popular recipient of this year's medal, which was presented by Trudi's uncle, Tony Mullally.

Andrew's year 8 teacher Angela Asi described him as an extremely courageous and resilient young man.

"He has been through so much in recent years but has the determination to bounce back. He has a positive attitude, a wonderful sense of humour and a heart of gold.

"He does not let anything get in his way and is willing to give anything a go," Mrs Asi said.

Another teacher, Ann Dooley, said he had been an inspiration to staff and pupils, with his "never-give-up" attitude making him a truly strong and loving member of the school.

A beaming Andrew said he was "rapt" to be awarded the medal, which he proudly wore around his neck.

"I behave in class, pretty much all the time."

A house captain and peer mediator, Andrew said he had made "heaps" of friends at St Josephs and his classmates had been very good to him.

He will attend St Kevins College next year.

"Now, I've got to start all over again, become senior. It's going to be tough," he said.

Asked how he stayed so positive, Andrew said going to school "each and every day" kept him that way - "being with my friends, just knowing that I've got people on my side and knowing I've got a family that support me," he said.

Andrew already has his future mapped out once he leaves school.

Getting a job answering the phone and speaking to people will be his first step, followed by doing some rugby analysis "and then maybe join Sky commentary".

In the meantime, over the summer when there was not much rugby on, he would watch cricket or NFL - "and that's definitely not as good as rugby".

•Leigh's syndrome is a rare neurometabolic disorder which affects the metabolism or internal workings of nerve cells.

It affects the nerves, which then affected muscles, Andrew's mother, Michelle Easton, said.

Andrew was not diagnosed with Leigh's syndrome until 2005 and, that yyear, Mrs Easton was told there were three cases in New Zealand.

There was no known cure, she said.


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