Ryan James admits he’d need a good incentive to shave his signature dark locks that he’s had since he was in school pants, particularly if it meant shocking his mother Terri-Lee.
However, he has found 40,001 good reasons!
One is a target of raising $40,000 for the Leukaemia Foundation as part of their major annual initiative The World’s Greatest Shave.
The other is that it would also honour the memory of the brother of former iSelect Titans teammate Luke O’Dwyer who grew up nearby and was a good mate of Ryan James’ older brothers. Ryan O’Dwyer lost his life at age 12 in 1998 after fighting leukaemia for seven years.
Unlike many mothers whose mum-to-son cry is often “get that hair cut”, Terri-Lee admits she would be reluctant to see the long hair of Ryan shed as “it’s just a part of him”. However Ryan’s partner Ana is happy to see a temporary change back to the crew cut Ryan had when they first became a pair in their school days, when he was “cute and fatter”.
So, split between loyalty to the two favourite women in his life, Ryan was happy to settle any argument with a deal that, if Titans fans and the public of the Gold Coast get behind the Titans’ campaign with pledges for donations, he’s happy to get the clippers out for the Leukaemia Foundation’s World Greatest Shave in March.
It is the foundation’s biggest fundraising event, having raised more than $158 million since it began in 1998. Every year in March, over 150,000 people across Australia get sponsored to shave or colour their hair to help fund blood cancer research.
It is also one of the iSelect Titan’s major charity initiatives of 2014, with the whole team supporting the pledge to try to raise $40,000. Several players are ready to at least dye their hair if not shave it all in a good cause.
"It [the long hair] is part of my image but if it goes it goes for a good cause,” said Ryan James. “Luke O'Dwyer's been pushing this on me for a couple of years now and if it's time, it's time. If we raise the money it would be great to give that to the Leukaemia Foundation.
“If we get $40,000, I'll get rid of it.
"We grew up with the O'Dwyers; their dad coached us. My older brother and Luke used to play footy together and then Luke and I played together the last couple of years and we're just good family friends.
"Ryan also played with my local junior club, Bilambil Jets. Since he was sick with leukaemia he wasn't really allowed to play footy but Bilambil gave him the opportunity and they gave him the jersey with his name on it and he got to run out on the field wearing it. It hit the whole Bilambil community pretty hard.”
Luke O’Dwyer, who retired last season and works in the Titans’ marketing department, is touched by Ryan’s pledge.
“[His brother] Ryan was five years old in 1991, and I was eight, when he was diagnosed with leukaemia. He had a long tough battle with the dreaded disease and relapsed three times before going down the path of an unrelated bone marrow transplant. Unfortunately Ryan didn’t survive and passed away in July of 1998 at age 12.
“He was a passionate rugby league supporter who only had the chance to play the game a very few times, not entirely backed by his oncologist, but she never had the heart to refuse him.
“His desire and imagination pushed and drove my determination to realise the dream that both of us had, to play the game at a professional level. My 10-year career and over 100 games for our local NRL team, the Gold Coast Titans, is an achievement I look back on with pride and gratitude on behalf of me and my late brother.”
In memory of Ryan O’Dwyer’s love of rugby league, the annual O’Dwyer Shield is played between St Joseph’s Primary School, Tweed Heads and St James Primary School, Banora Point. This year it will be staged at CBus Super Stadium as a curtain-raiser to the Titans’ opening home game against the Wests Tigers.
The money raised by the World’s Greatest Shave helps provide free accommodation for blood cancer patients and their families near treatment hospitals, plus free transport to and from treatments, emotional support and counselling, and urgent financial assistance.
To donate directly to Ryan James’ target of $40,000, visit the Titans fundraising page.