Cycling up and down Beach Road with the “weekend warriors”, Danny Frawley – camped at the rear of the peloton – would always be the one to speak up when the going got tough.
A booming yell of encouragement or a hearty jab were always on call the moment he spotted anyone struggling to keep up, and those around him knew full well when Spud had their back.
It was the same from a mental health perspective. Frawley read the signs and was there to support his mates when they needed a hand, even if they themselves refused to admit it. With his help, the wheels kept on turning.
Tragically, despite Spud’s championing of the cause by sharing his own personal battles to break down stigmas surrounding mental ill-health, he didn’t heed his own advice when he required it most.
Today sadly marks two years since the St Kilda champion passed away, aged 56.
While he may not be with us in person today, Frawley’s unmatched legacy lives on through the soon-to-be completed Danny Frawley Centre for Health & Wellbeing; a world-class complex at RSEA Park which will host a range of physical and mental health facilities, services and programs for the community’s use.
Thanks to Dare Iced Coffee, former teammate of Frawley and fellow cyclist Sean Ralphsmith spoke to SEN’s The Conversations That Could as part of R U OK? Day about turning Spud’s vision into a reality.
“Danny wanted to make sure that if people felt like they had a problem, they could put their hand up and talk to someone,” Ralphsmith said.
“Our vision is that you’ll be able to walk in, walk up the stairs and say g’day to someone and ask them ‘what’s going on, what programs are you running, what people have you got here to talk to?’.
“It needs to be an inclusive space, it needs to be a safe space so if people make the decision to walk in (that) at least they’ll get to talk to someone and we can point them in the right direction and let them know that they’ve made the right decision in coming in.”
Ralphsmith, who played 30 games for St Kilda from 1991-1994, returned to the club earlier this year as a consultant for the Danny Frawley Centre for Health & Wellbeing.
In the months since, he’s been a vital figure in bringing Spud’s legacy to life, developing the centre's operating and business models and collaborating with numerous mental health organisations to ensure the best and most relevant initiatives are run from the new community hub.
The combination of Federal and State Government grants totalling nearly $16 million, in addition to philanthropic support, means the Danny Frawley Centre for Health & Wellbeing will be able to support the physical and mental health of St Kilda people and the community alike.
“Spud talked to (St Kilda CEO) Matt Finnis a lot about the past players being made to feel welcome (as well), that they needed a sense of identity and belonging,” Ralphsmith said.
“When you finish your AFL career, a lot of people lose their identity when they finish. You go through this period of mourning as a past player and then at some stage, you want to reconnect with your club.
“The clubs that do it really well make sure that the players know that they’re welcome at any turn and that’s what Spud really wanted to build.”
The upstairs component of the facility will house numerous mental health programs in both classroom and intimate settings for community use, including school groups and youth sporting organisations, with a focus on evidence-based early intervention and prevention. Downstairs will feature a 25m lap pool, hydrotherapy pool, rehabilitation gym and high-tech recovery area, as well as a multi-purpose movement space capable of delivering wellbeing programs to groups of up to 250 participants.
The Danny Frawley Centre for Health & Wellbeing is scheduled for completion by approximately February 2022.
While there’s still a long road ahead and many more stigmas and misconceptions about mental ill-health that need to be broken down, Ralphsmith says the centre in the late Frawley’s name will make a world of difference.
“I think we are progressing a lot. I’m not an expert in this field, but I’m learning a lot about and I think that the Saints are going to do a great job in taking that to the next stage with the Frawley Centre and everything that’s going to stand form,” Ralphsmith said.
“If you get physically injured, you do rehab, and if you’ve got an injury mentally in one way the other, we need to learn how to acknowledge it, diagnose it and treat it before it becomes too much of an issue.
“Out of tragedy comes great opportunity, and the tragedy of Spud’s passing has allowed us to make that facility focus on mental health and what Danny stood for in terms of being really inclusive and helping others and talking about his challenges.
“In the spirit of what Spud would say, it’s time to talk.”
If you or anyone you know needs support, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.