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Following forced retirement from the NRL earlier this year, Ash Taylor is excelling in his new health career as a mentor for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids in Toowoomba.
Mr Taylor was understandably disappointed after being forced to retire from a promising NRL career in May 2022 following multiple surgeries that were needed after injuries sustained during play. Not sure what the future held for him, he quickly changed courses and started work with Darling Downs Health in the role of Indigenous Project Support Officer.
Now, as the end of the year approaches, he has set himself on a new career path in the role of mentor as part of Darling Downs Health’s Big Buddy program.
“It was pretty tough at the start of retirement and I think it hasn't really sunk in yet that it’s over. Even though it wasn't a good feeling to retire, it was a relief to move on with my life and move onto the other side, which is working in this role,” Mr Taylor said.
The Big Buddy program, which launched in Toowoomba in November, aims to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids aged 12-17 years achieve their full potential by addressing the social and economic determinants of health. The program provides opportunities for professional and personal development through social activities, health education and training.
Mr Taylor is now focused on helping young people achieve their dreams, using his own experiences as a professional athlete to inspire and guide them.
"I can give them the steppingstone and give them some advice. But it's really up to the kids to get where they want to go,” Mr Taylor said.
Mr Taylor’s own upbringing involved plenty of sacrifice and hard work.
“I come from a pretty sporty background and my family had to move from St George to Toowoomba to give me a steppingstone into NRL. It was tough for them to move, but they knew that they had to do it for me to get into footy at a professional level. It took a lot of commitment and a lot of luck,” he said.
Mr Taylor will be busy in the lead-up to Christmas as Big Buddy is running its inaugural school holiday program.
“The program is designed to keep kids busy and occupied during the holidays. We’re trying to get the kids together; doing some activities but also getting some further education.”
“After our activity sessions, we offer some health education, whether it be somebody talking about healthy eating, or alcohol and drugs, or mental wellbeing—just all the information the kids need to learn about.”
As for his hopes for the program in 2023, Mr Taylor says he wants to grow Big Buddy and also get back on the footy field to have a run with the program participants.
“Next year, we want to continue to give our kids every opportunity to make themselves better as young adults and foster that next generation coming through.
“After my recent surgeries, I’m looking forward to recovering fully. Now I’m having to be more verbal with the kids rather than physically showing them how to do things, but all the kids want to compete against me!
“I am really looking forward to getting back to running around on the footy field with the kids and not just being on the sidelines,” he said.
The 2022 Big Buddy Toowoomba School Holiday program is free and runs from Monday 12 December – Friday 23 December, with the program recommencing on Monday 9 January 2023.