'Everyone keeps saying I'm brave but I don't have a choice'

17th May 2017 5:00 AM
UPDATED 3:06 PM
FAMILY MAN: Wilson 'Junior' Togia shares a special moment with his six children and (inset ) celebrates the grand final win with Brothers in 2008. FAMILY MAN: Wilson 'Junior' Togia shares a special moment with his six children and (inset ) celebrates the grand final win with Brothers in 2008.

ON and off the football field, Wilson "Junior" Togia has left a lasting impression on everyone around him.

A premiership winning player and coach, Junior approached life like he would a game of rugby league.

It was never about the scoreline, but the flair and charisma that got you there.

"That's how I coached," Junior said. "I would tell the boys it was not about scoring the try.

"It was how you did it and the celebration afterwards."

In July last year, the 44-year-old father of six began an unexpected journey when he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease.

Over the coming months the gradual loss of movement would strip away decades of clean living and a dedication to fitness.

Completely incurable, the disease slowly attacked Junior's nerve cells, eventually confining him to a wheelchair and severely limiting his movement.

"Everyone keeps saying I'm really brave but I don't have a choice," he said.

"When I was first diagnosed I went overboard with pranks on my family.

"Then I had a heart attack and they had to revive me. That's when I realised how serious it was."

First came the weight loss. Then the loss of motor control and fatigue which targeted his leg muscles, hands and later on, slurring his speech.

What was most devastating for Junior was the effect the disease would have on his ability to speak.

"Even as a child I was always known for my gift of the gab," he said.

"Now I have to transition to the gift of the text and the Facebook.

"That's the only place where I am able to express myself."

Wilson 'Junior' Togia celebrates the 2008 grand final win with Brothers Ipswich.
Wilson 'Junior' Togia celebrates the 2008 grand final win with Brothers Ipswich.

 

A member of the Ipswich Jets in the late '90s , the effect Junior had on rugby league in Ipswich can still be seen today.

Born in New Zealand, Junior is credited with being one of the first Polynesian players to represent Brothers Ipswich.

Breaking the divide between his hometown of Goodna and the "city club", a whole generation of players from different backgrounds would follow his lead.

"My family were the first to come over to Ipswich," Junior said.

"I would have lived in Ipswich central but all my relatives were in Goodna.

"When I was a junior I chose to play here instead with all my friends. After I did, heaps of players followed me over.

"I had a really positive experience over that time."

That decision began a life-long love for Brothers and the Ipswich community at large.

After playing for the Ipswich Jets in the late '90s, Junior would return to the blue and white jersey to coach the Reserve Grade side to a premiership in 2010.

"I've brought my son and five nephews to Brothers," he said. "To tell you the effect the club had on me, I only have one son but I took him to St Edmund's.

"The majority of boys here come from there and I want my son to be like them.

"He's as tall as me now, and I have no more shoes because he's taken all of them."

This weekend, people from across Ipswich will have a chance to return the favour.

Organised by close friend Hayley Picker, more than 100 people will attend the Walk for Wilson to help raise funds for Junior's palliative care and his family.

"I'm really grateful for everything they have done," he said. "It's going to be a huge reunion. I've got people from high school and a friend from Melbourne coming up."

More than 2000 Australians currently suffer from MND, and it is estimated that a further 14 members of their friends and family will live with the effects of the diagnosis.

A larger-than-life character who worked as a real estate agent at Ray White Bundamba, and a regular face in the Infinity Martial Arts gym, that number will be much higher for Junior.

"I'm just hoping to raise awareness for MND. I'm really grateful that (the fundraising) is helping my family more than it's helping me."