Growing up in Tasmania, Nick Riewoldt developed a real love for the great outdoors.
And it inspired him to dive into a sport that’s about as far from a football oval as you could get.
The retired professional footballer — who played a record 220 games as the longest-serving captain of St Kilda and 336 games as an AFL star — likes to free-dive, a hobby he has pursued for more than 20 years.
“I love the freedom of it and the peace and quiet under the water, but also enjoy the hunter-gatherer aspect,” Riewoldt said, adding most of his diving was along the east coast of Tassie, where his catch of the day could include anything from crayfish to abalone.
Riewoldt’s world was turned upside down when his sister, Maddie, was diagnosed with aplastic anaemia (a bone marrow failure syndrome) at just 21 and died five years later, in 2015.
Dealing with the loss and the process of grieving has inspired him to write a book, The Things that Make Us, with Peter Hanlon (Allen & Unwin).
“I wanted to write something about my life that people could relate to,” he said. “Having been an elite footballer for a long period of time is a bit difficult to relate to, but the grief of losing someone really close to you is (relatable). So, that was the motivation: to write something people connected with and that honoured Maddie and celebrated our family history.”
Riewoldt described grief as “a very individual feeling”.
“I don’t think it ever really disappears; it just becomes different,” he said.
“I used to love watching sport and gossiping with Maddie and just being silly together. I still pick up the phone to call her sometimes and then realise I can’t speak to her anymore.”
Riewoldt, who was the No.1 pick in the 2000 AFL draft and six-time winner of St Kilda’s best and fairest award, lives in the Bayside area with his wife, Catherine, and their two children, James, 4, and Will, 2.
This year, he will continue providing expert AFL analysis for Fox Footy and also in his role as chairman of Maddie Riewoldt’s Vision charity and with his business interests with Sports Where I Am and PMY Group.
Typical Saturday morning
It was high stress when I was preparing for a game of footy. Now, we get up early, because there’s no sleeping in with the boys, and go to the local coffee shop where they do great bacon and egg sliders. Later, we’ll go to the park or do a family-type activity. That’s been the most refreshing aspect of not playing footy anymore — the ability to do little things like enjoy a weekend.
Secret domestic skill
I’m not a bad cook and curried scallops is my signature dish. I love cooking seafood.
It’s probably country now. I have been well and truly converted.
On my bedside table
Books. I read a lot. My favourite genres are historical fiction and spy and espionage novels.
Favourite room to relax
The room with the piano. I sneak in there with a book when there is no one around, light the fireplace and just enjoy a moment of quiet.
First thing I do when I walk in the door
I get inside and wait by the front door because if the boys are home they’ll run straight to me and that’s just the best feeling in the world.
Happiness at home
My favourite things
We’ve had a piano in our family for a few generations and it was in Mum’s possession for a number of years. When Mum and Dad downsized, they put it into storage, but my wife, Cath, was keen to start playing again, so we decided to take it out of storage, have it restored and keep it in our home. Sadly, we learned it was beyond repair but managed to find one that was really similar and had that restored. We incorporated elements of the old piano, such as the legs and the music stand, into the new piano. This way, it still has that bit of family soul and history and now it will become an heirloom we hand down to our family.
This is filled with sand and twigs from Millingtons Beach, which was named after my great-great-grandfather. It’s in Orford, on the east coast of Tassie. Our family has a house along the river and we can walk down a path to the beach. It’s also the resting place for my sister, Maddie, and was one of her favourite spots in the world, so now it has even more meaning to us. All of my great childhood memories with Maddie and my family are there — it’s just a beautiful, peaceful place to be. When Maddie was sick and in hospital, it’s the one place she wanted to go. We’d sometimes use that as a bit of a carrot for her when she needed some inspiration. It was her happy place.
When Cath moved to Australia in 2010 (from the US), she’d always speak about her family’s ranch in Texas and the emotions attached. The first time I went across to meet her family, I understood why it was so special to her and why she loved it so much. It’s everything you’d expect of a Texas ranch — they have livestock and it’s quite vast and barren, the total opposite to what I grew up with, which was the beach and the ocean. But it is so beautiful and peaceful. It’s called Denman Moody ranch, after Cath’s great-grandfather, and has been in their family for more than 100 years. Some friends of ours know (notable Australian artist) David Bromley, who did this artwork of the ranch. It’s a really special piece.
When St Kilda Football Club left Moorabbin as our training oval back in 2011, one of our trainers, Andrew, grabbed a bunch of lockers that belonged to the prominent players and painted them and did them up. He gave them to us as a gift. It is a cool piece to have, particularly as the Moorabbin oval (where St Kilda Football Club has now returned to train) has been fully restored and is all new and shiny. When I look at it, I remember the old set-up, and the history that existed within those clubrooms, which I was a part of and many great St Kilda players have been a part of. It reminds me of the old-school nature of footy. You could fit a few suitcases in the lockers they have today, whereas you could pretty much only fit a pair of footy boots and a towel in this one. We keep it in the kids’ playroom to store toys now.
We established Maddie Riewoldt’s Vision in memory of my sister. It is a not-for-profit group formed to fund research into bone marrow failure. Fight Like Maddie became our slogan because Maddie fought the illness so hard and it inspired us all. She was the catalyst for us starting a charity in the first place. Nike, who have been a sponsor of mine for pretty much my entire footy career, very kindly custom-made these boots for me for Maddie’s Match, in 2015. I wore them in the game, which was our first big fundraiser as an organisation. I haven’t held on to many pairs of boots for posterity’s sake, but this is a pair I will cherish forever, just because of the emotional significance.