The day a tough guy melted
Former footballer Stephen Rowe is renowned for clowning around on his radio program. But through 27 years as a Make-A-Wish volunteer, he's revealed a heart as big as the MCG.
Weekend warrior moved by article
Every weekend for as long as he could remember, former AFL player Stephen Rowe would take the field for a bruising and brutal match of football. The day after one of these war-like games playing with the Adelaide Crows in 1993, the tough footballer's heart melted.
It was Sunday, and he was sore from the day before, but he picked up a newspaper, and his eyes were drawn to an article about two little boys.
"I remember turning to this page, and I very rarely read anything from top to tail," Stephen said.
"It was an article about these two little boys that had an illness and how it affected their families.
"They’d each had a wish from Make-A-Wish.
"It was before I had kids, but the article connected with me. And right at the end, they said Make-A-Wish is looking for volunteers".
Stephen rang Make-A-Wish the next day and started his now 27-year volunteer journey.
Transition to radio
'Village clown' carves out career
Stephen carved out a successful footy career in the 80s and 90s, playing 29 games for Adelaide Crows, 27 for South Fremantle and 185 for Norwood, the team he grew up loving.
In 1997 he did a radio spot promoting Kmart, and it went so well that he ended up on Adelaide breakfast radio.
Today he co-hosts the drivetime slot on FIVEaa with former Crows champion, Mark Bickley.
"I never thought I would end up on radio," Stephen said. "Every interview I did as a player was terrible – I was shy, gave one-word answers, and I grunted. People will say that I still do that now!
"Now it's Bicks and me, and you have the expert, the hall-of-famer and the smart broadcaster, and then you have the village clown. I'm more the village clown."
Making wishes happen
On joining Make-A-Wish, Stephen wasted no time in immersing himself in the Adelaide Branch life. He got involved in wishes early on, also taking on various branch leadership positions and helping to organise Adelaide's first Make-A-Wish Ball.
When Stephen’s daughter Gemma was born, he decided he needed to take a step back from wishes for a while.
"It was just too big a heartache (at that time). I kept thinking 'why am I so lucky and they are so unlucky?' I just got too emotionally attached. So, I started focusing on the fundraising side of things," he said.
Stephen has recently returned to being hands-on with wish granting in the past 17 months.
"It was a 25-year gap, but I still always got the thrill of going to meetings and hearing the stories," he said.
Stephen says his most memorable wish involved a little girl who visited Monkey Mia, north of Perth, for her wish to swim with dolphins.
"On her second day, a pup was born at sea, and this dolphin came in with its mother," he said.
"The ranger told everyone it was a brand new dolphin, and that the dolphin would be named after the wish child, right in front of her. It was just such an incredible, unique experience.”
Daughter to follow in his footsteps
Stephen said the key to Make-A-Wish granting extraordinary wishes was doing everything possible to make sure a wish meets the child’s expectations.
"The important thing is to remember I think that it's that child's special wish, and it's as unique as their imagination," he said.
"The wish just grows in front of your eyes when you hear our wish kids talk. For that one moment in their tough lives, they do feel like they are king or queen for the day."
Stephen's three children have all been involved with Make-A-Wish over the past 27-years of his volunteer journey. Helping to sell Christmas trees, rattling tins and going along to meetings.
His eldest daughter Gemma, now 26, would join him at meetings as a young child to give her mum some free time.
She now has plans to join up as a volunteer once COVID allows, too.
"She is pretty passionate about it," Stephen said. "It'll be lovely. Dad and daughter going to meetings again."
For that one moment in their tough lives, they do feel like they are king or queen for the dayStephen Rowe
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The Wish Journey
How a wish comes to life
Make-A-Wish volunteers visit each child to capture their greatest wish, getting to the heart of what kids truly want and why. This profound insight is part of what makes Make-A-Wish unique, giving children full creative control and helping to shape their entire Wish Journey.
Back at Make-A-Wish HQ, we partner with families, volunteers and medical teams to design the ultimate wish experience - and start rallying our partners and supporters to help make it happen.
In the lead up to the wish, we take each child on a journey designed to build excitement and provide a welcome distraction from medical treatment. Anticipation can be incredibly powerful, helping to calm, distract and inspire sick kids at a time they need it most.
When the moment finally arrives, children get to experience their greatest wish come true - it's everything they've imagined and more. Pinch yourself, and don't forget to take a breath and enjoy every precious moment!
Wish impact studies show that a child's wish lives on, long after the moment. A wish gives more than just hope – with an incredible and lasting effect on the lives of sick kids, their families and wider communities.