In just over two and a half years Alex Ma has made a massive imprint on the players at the Manly
Alex’s passion for the Sea Eagles is a source of inspiration for the players and he has become the team’s unofficial lucky charm.
From the head coach of the NRL side, through to the chairman and CEO and every player in the organisation and most of the fans he has become an integral part of the mighty maroon and white.
Alex Ma is about never giving up, beating the odds, enjoying life and never losing the faith. He came to the Sea Eagles offering nothing but love but gave back much more. Doctors told Alex’s parents Max and Louise when their son was five that he would never walk or talk because of his cerebral palsy.
But a return to Max’s homeland and treatment using time honored Chinese herbal treatment resulted in a vast Improvement in Alex’s condition. It provided hope that the youngster could surprise and alter the early diagnosis.
At aged 12 Alex visited the Sea Eagles at a training session and impressed the players with his happy demeanor. He was soon a regular at training and started physiotherapy session with club physio Andre Rickenbach and special training sessions under the club’s head conditioner Donny Singe. After a few months Alex discarded his wheelchair and showed great improvement before returning to his home
It became apparent to Alex’s parents that their son was happiest when on the northern beaches with his beloved Sea Eagles who had adopted him. Alex Ma was a regular at all matches in the NRL and if Manly traveled to Townsville, Brisbane, Melbourne, Canberra or Auckland Big Al was there.
At last year’s grand final he met the then Prime Minister John Howard in the Manly dressing room after the grand final loss to the Melbourne Storm. The Prime Minister said, “I’ve heard of you – you’re Big Al!”
Since he was adopted by the side Alex refuses to wear anything but Manly Sea Eagles clothing. He has more than 25 jerseys from all eras and wore his Sea Eagles colours to school every day in China.
I had the pleasure of visiting him in China at his international school last year and his passion for the Sea Eagles still shone through many thousands away from Brookvale Oval where he watched every match from the player’s dugout.
I have found a friend for life. A boy who inspires me every day. A boy who is wise beyond his years. Every Sunday morning he comes into the studios of radio station 2KY to listen to a three hour program on Rugby League on the Hollywood and Zorba program. His enthusiasm and zest for life ignites the studio.
I can’t put in words how special my little mate is. Perhaps this little story will portray it best.
Al was walking through Centennial Park with his mate on his way to St. Mary’s Cathedral just before Xmas two years ago when he came across a group of down and outers. He stopped and played chess with him for an hour and then asked his mum if she could get them something to eat. Louise Ma headed off to buy 15 ham and cheese croissants while her son played chess with complete strangers. Alex has played chess for his school in China and speaks three languages.
I’m proud to call him my mate.
MY INSPIRATION SENT BY GOD
I have learned to take the good with the bad and how to deal with the unexpected while sitting on the log fence overlooking the Manly Sea Eagles training field at the NSW Sports Academy at Narrabeen.
It was a shattering place for me almost 20 years ago when the call came that my sick father Bill was seriously ill in his nursing home at Belmore. One minute I was watching the team train in a field session and the next I was at the nursing home knowing the inevitable.
For a while I hated that particular spot on the fence but gradually I came around to looking to the heavens and talking to my late dad from the log. It became a place of real comfort for me.
Then 13 years later in the exact same spot I am sure God sent me a special gift. Out of nowhere this smiling young teenager with an obvious zest for life came into my world.
Alex Ma was 13 years of age and confined mostly to a wheelchair when he visited a Sea Eagles training session at the request of leading player manager George Mimis through a business associate.
Alex Ma was born in Sydney with cerebral palsy and after five years of unsuccessful medical treatment his parents Max and Louise Ma decided to move to China to try out the ancient Chinese methods of medicine on their son.
They refused to accept the general opinion that their boy would never walk or talk.
As Alex continued to show signs of improvement his home alternated between mainland China and the northern beaches of Sydney.
Manly became his favourite football team and Alex longed for the time when he could meet up with his heroes.
By the time I met Alex in 2006 he could talk in Chinese and English. He could play chess like a demon and he longed to get out of his wheelchair.
But no-one except Alex himself could dream of where he is today.
First day at Manly training he donned the tackle vests and flopped his way around with the biggest smile on his face. He kept saying he would play one day.
Alex was infectious and I immediately struck up a friendship which is special to me. The team adopted him and he became a regular at matches sitting in the team dug out and getting special attention from all the team and staff.
The association between Alex and the team became infectious. But he soon became the inspiration.His loyalty,dedication and absolute love for his team was awe inspiring.
With my wife Cassie,brother in law Rick and his wife Heather I visited Alex in China. Surely I would see a different Alex Ma in a different world where Rugby League isn’t spoken about.
I should have known better with Big Al. His bedroom was covered in Manly memorabilia. He wore a different team jersey to school every day. His school mates thought he was from another planet but he didn’t care.
His closeness to the team brought about a love for fitness in Alex and he has made an amazing transformation in terms of caring about his body and being as fit as he can be.
It would have been easy for him to sit in his wheelchair and watch life go by. But that isn’t the Alex Ma I know and love.
He will take anything on and usually win. i have had him in a radio studio with me taking calls on the open line and his infectious character has people admiring his courage and willingness to have a go.
I have watched him swim,lift weights,ride his bike,wrestle and even play football in a handicap special team.He is an inspiration to fellow suffers of CP.
Alex has embraced social media and with the aid of a loving and caring family is maturing into a wonderful young man.
My phone will ring at any hour and we laugh our way through 10 minutes like we did when we first met.
I like to watch Alex from the sideline.He no longer needs me as a crutch at Manly games. He is his own person – always polite and always caring.
I have learnt that nothing he does surprises me. I am glad he has a professional team of helpers around him.
His parents Max and Louise,sister Nicki,elder brothers Dan and Matt and his grand mother Jeannie are his loving family – all wonderful people in Alex’s life.They are a champion team behind Alex and his amazing transformation.
Everyone of them play an important role in Alex’s world and he is the first to recognise the sacrifices they have all made to make his life special.
I feel humbled to have helped in a small way.
Somehow I think I taught Alex that it is essential to have a sense of humour to be able to laugh at oneself. I also passed on that it is okay to show affection to someone one cares about. Just pointing out the difference to him in the different cultures he embraces so wonderfully well.
I look forward to my hugs with Al and he now has no inhibitions in that area. His presence in a room is evident and his good mannered attitude to life is catching. But it is his unbridled courage that makes him a special person.He has undergone a multitude of operations in recent years which could only have been possible because of his new found strength,fitness and diet regime. Alex Ma is a rock as a mate.He never forgets important dates or the fun times we have enjoyed.
He has a vault like memory and a heart of gold. He came to me looking for some sunshine in his life and I ended up with a ripper of a mate for ever.
I sit on that log today,smile to myself and re live our first meeting.
MANLY SEA EAGLES – MEDIA AND EVENTS MANAGER