Growing up, James Matthews played every sport he could. But from the cricket pitch to the footy field, he kept his CF a secret. For CFStrong, James shares what helped him to open up about his CF.
“I was born with a footy in my hand,” James Matthews says. “I’m the youngest of four. So, by the time I was born, my oldest brother was already playing under 9s footy.”
The pathway to the sporting field is one the 31-year-old ran down enthusiastically.
“You always do what your older brothers were doing. They were kicking the footy, so I wanted to kick the footy, you know, they started playing cricket, I wanted to play cricket.
“Dad was president down at the local club and Mum was running the canteen. So, every Saturday or Sunday, I was down the club anyway, so I really didn’t have too much of a choice. But I just loved being active.
“We’ve always fished in the summer, played cricket, played footy. I just loved hanging out with my mates and I was skateboarding my whole life, things like that.”
James says his older brother, who also has CF, was a big motivator and set a positive example for him to follow.
“We’ve obviously got a special bond compared to the other brothers having this condition.
“Well, he’s my hero really. Because he led the way and I’ve never seen him grizzle or crack it or anything my whole life and I mean, I hang my hat on him, the way he’s gone about it his whole life. He’s just never never let it get to him.
“And I thought, well, if he’s not doing it, well, I’m not doing it. And we just always just carried on playing footy, playing cricket, doing everything.
“I guess the more I was doing that, the less I was needing to do my physio and meds.”
”I kept it a secret, you know, as much as I could from pretty well most people… But then when I got towards 27 I started slowing down a bit more again. And that’s when I started to open up… It actually worked out pretty well. And I do probably wish I probably did say it a bit earlier because you should let other people know and things like that because the support you get from them is absolutely amazing.James
But throughout all his sporting endeavours growing up and into adulthood, James kept his CF a secret.
“I kept it a secret, you know, as much as I could from pretty well most people besides some of my best mates my whole entire life.
“I just didn’t want to be the sick kid.
“I really did shelter it massively. And Mum used to have a couple of great tricks when we were kids. I’d have sandwiches or something for lunch and Mum would wrap it up in glad wrap and stick a couple of tablets underneath the glad wrap. So, as I’m taking it out of the lunchbox, bang straight in the mouth with the tablets. But I just completely hid it.
“Even when I was playing footy, I didn’t really tell anyone. Even the coaches, nothing like that really until they had to know.
“Because when I was running laps or doing anything I didn’t want anyone to say to me ‘oh no Jim, you’re at the back, it’s alright mate, you know, keep going, you’ve got your condition’, stuff like that. And I always had this mentality, because people would always say to me, some of my mates, why don’t you tell them? You can use it as an excuse. I never ever once used it as an excuse because I just never wanted it to be an excuse.
“If you’re out there and no one knows it, they’ll keep pushing you, they’ll keep going. And you’ll just get more and more out of it. So, I love that.
“But then when I got towards 27, I started slowing down a bit more again. And that’s when I started to open up.”
A training session modelled on a strategy by the Richmond Football Club which saw players discuss their experiences under the banners of hardship, heroes and highlights encouraged James to open up.
“I got up and I said my hardship, obviously being the CF and that’s when I first sort of opened it up sort of to the world.
“I didn’t want to do any of that until I’d met my awesome fiancée now, Gabby.
“When you’re growing up, you don’t want people to know about it because you don’t want to be the sick kid, and you do, you think well, am I going to get in relationships and stuff? Can people handle all this sort of stuff? But then once you do, you open up and you find someone absolutely amazing, like I have, and they make you realise that no, no, it’s fine. All this stuff’s great. And people do still care about you, want to do all that sort of stuff.
“So that’s when I started opening up and that’s when I started doing this with the footy club and then the response was great, and everyone would still push me along. Because I always said I don’t want anyone to think otherwise and stuff.
“It actually worked out pretty well. And I do probably wish I probably did say it a bit earlier because you know, you should let other people know and things like that because the support and things you get from them is absolutely amazing.”
While playing sport and keeping active has been an important part of managing CF for James, he says he has noticed some changes as he’s gotten older.
“It definitely slows you down. I’ve really noticed probably in the last six months even. Because I’m 31 years old now and I’ve only just stopped playing halfway through last year.
“Over the years, you do really start to slow down and getting back into those preseasons and things like that, it does impact.
“When I was 18, things like that were a lot easier. And just even just being that little bit sore after a game of footy as well.
“Even being an electrician, digging holes and stuff like that just slowly it’s just starting to take its toll, unfortunately. But it’s just something that you have to live with. We all get older, and we all start to feel it.
“I’m extremely grateful for the huge footy career that I had. I played from under 10s all the way to 31 years old. I was lucky to win a couple of junior flags and things like that. No senior ones, unfortunately. But I still had a great full footy career. And I was at the back of the pack, but I never stopped running. So that was one thing that I can hang my hat on.”
In this episode of the CFStrong podcast we speak with James about growing up with four brothers, keeping active and playing sport and what helped him to open up about and share his CF story with his teammates.