Rugby league legend Wally Lewis opens up about ‘devastating’ diagnosis

Jul 31, 2023
Despite the diagnosis, Lewis explained that he has no regrets about his stellar sporting career and that he wouldn't change a thing. Source: Getty Images.

In a candid and emotional interview, rugby league icon Wally Lewis has bravely opened up about his struggle with a neurodegenerative condition.

Lewis revealed to 60 Minutes on Sunday, July 30 that he has been diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and has experienced problems with short-term memory loss.

According to Dementia Australia, CTE is a type of dementia where many repeated head injuries can affect someone’s brain function over time, enough to interfere with the person’s normal or working life.”

Lewis recalled one of his first meetings with his doctor in which it became clear that his brain was beginning to fail him.

“She asked to repeat simple things – I think she gave me five things, and it might have been something like bus, dog, truck, camera, chair. And she said, ‘Remember those.’ And went over them two or three times,” Lewis said.

“A minute later she said, ‘What are the things I asked you to remember?’ And I got two of them. And then sometime later, after that, she said, ‘Do you remember what they were?’ And I think I said ‘bus’.

“Pride’s a wonderful thing, but there wasn’t much of it around then.”

Lewis’ neurologist Dr Rowena Mobbs told the program that it was difficult to see the growing number of former athletes diagnosed with the “devastating” condition.

“It’s hard to see the players go through it. They’re people I’ve admired and loved growing up, so the last thing I want to do is diagnose them with dementia,” she said.

Despite the diagnosis, Lewis explained that he has no regrets about his stellar sporting career and that he wouldn’t change a thing.

“Would I change a thing? No, I wouldn’t,” he said.

“I loved the game that I played. I felt privileged to have played it, and to have been given that chance. When you go out there and you’re wearing the representative jerseys, particularly the one for Australia, you feel ten feet tall and bulletproof.

“Well, you might think you are. But you’re not.”

Following news of his diagnosis, fans were quick to rally behind the sporting legend and offer their messages of support.

“This will be bigger than any game his played. Praying for you King your a Champion,” one fan wrote.

“Salute, King Wally.”

“So sad to watch. What a great player,” another commented.

“I wish you the very very best in your future journey!”

“Just watched Wallys interview always was always will be a champion.”

Earlier this year, Lewis announced that he would be stepping down from his role as Queensland Sports Presenter with 9News after more than two decades in the role, citing health reasons for his decision.

At the time Lewis revealed that although he will be taking “more of a backseat role in the studio” he will still keep audiences “up-to-date on the highs and lows of local and international sport”.

“My health has made decisions for me in the past so it’s my turn to make decisions for my health,” he told TV Blackbox.

“Beyond 9News, I’ll continue to call WWOS home, and there are some special Nine programs in the pipeline that I’m also ready to tackle alongside my ongoing involvement with the QRL and FOGS (Former Origin Greats).

“It’s safe to say that no two weeks in my calendar will look the same this year, which is what I’m looking forward to most.”

Lewis represented Queensland in thirty-one State of Origin games from 1980 to 1991, and was captain for thirty of them.

He also represented Australia in thirty-three international matches from 1981 to 1991 and was the national team captain from 1984 to 1989.

Lewis played a major role in Queensland’s success in the State of Origin series throughout the 1980s, winning the Man of the Match a record 8 times.

In recognition of his stellar sporting career, Lewis was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1987 and became the sixth member of ‘The Immortals’ in 1999. In 2000, he was awarded the Australian Sports Medal for his contribution to Australia’s international standing in the sport of rugby league.

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