“I wanted to make her proud”: How driving despite mom’s cancer battle Papenhuyzen Ryan

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“I wanted to make her proud”: How driving despite mom’s cancer battle Papenhuyzen Ryan
Ryan Papenhuyzen believes that in the past few years, he let the Melbourne Storm down. He detests the sensation.

He associates one of his lowest points in life with the remorse he feels for missing so many games due to significant injuries. His mother, Rachel, was given a breast cancer diagnosis when he was a high school student.

For a short while, Papenhuyzen thought his mother might not make it.

Many people’s motivation, according to Papenhuyzen, stems from their early experiences, specifically from their fear of failing and desire to avoid disappointing others.


It all stems back to my childhood. Before year 9, I was a bit of a jerk. Then, my mother became ill, ultimately developing breast cancer. That’s when I realized for the first time: Am I embarrassing my mother as a child?

“I didn’t put in the time and effort necessary for school, and I was a little bit nasty and annoying. But when Mum became ill, it really got me going.

“She went through chemo, and at the time I didn’t know how long she had left. It was awful to see her go through the chemo. It brought us closer as a family.

“I wanted to make her proud and not think I was wasting my potential.


Broken but unbeaten: Ryan Papenhuyzen vows to 'go again' after horror NRL  injury | NRL | The Guardian

“Mum’s big thing was, ‘Be a good human’. When I’d leave the house each day, she’d be like, ‘Do a good deed for someone today.’ That’s always been her mentality.

“The cancer came back a few years later when I was in Melbourne, but she’s been good for a few years now.

“I don’t want to embarrass anyone or let people down; that’s something that has always driven me, and is driving me now with the Storm.

“I feel like I’ve let the club down the last couple of years.”


Papenhuyzen won the Clive Churchill Medal in 2020, and was in the NSW State of Origin squad when the interstate series was played at the end of that year due to COVID. He would have been handy for game three at Suncorp Stadium after James Tedesco was knocked out early, but didn’t get a start.

Papenhuyzen had the world at his feet as 2021 rolled around.

But then things started to go wrong. Badly wrong.

He suffered a serious concussion in a sickening incident in Magic Round of that season, which kept him out for 10 weeks, then shattered a knee cap against the Raiders in 2022 and missed more than a year of football. After months of agonising rehabilitation, he made it back onto the field in round 26 last year as part of a three-game cameo, which ended with a bone sticking out of his right ankle against the Broncos in the first week of the finals.

It was an injury that echoed around the league world, such is Papenhuyzen’s popularity.

During the week, Storm icon Billy Slater was in the Channel Nine studios in North Sydney. He was nearly disturbed to hear of Papenhuyzen’s sense of shame for missing so much playing time.

Slater still works once a week at the Storm alongside Papenhuyzen, whom he regards as a close friend.

Slater remarks, “I don’t agree with him there, and that’s tough to hear.” In my view, it’s the exact opposite. He is a tremendous player who has given so much to the Melbourne Storm, the town, and its supporters. He has already received a lot, in my opinion, having been awarded the Clive Churchill Medal.

“A player cannot be criticized for putting his body on the line; that is all that can be expected of him.”




Papenhuyzen paid for his own flight back to the US to work with reconditioning specialist Bill Knowles once again to ensure he was ready for round one of the Storm on March 8. He covered his own travel and lodging expenses, which came to roughly forty thousand dollars for two weeks.

He once used flippers in the pool to restore his right ankle’s complete range of motion. throwing a ball against the wall and hula-hooping while balanced on a balance beam helped activate muscles and areas of his brain that he hadn’t utilized in a long time.

In order to activate his quadriceps, Knowles also had Papenhuyzen take off the seat of an exercise bike, squat like a jockey on a thoroughbred, and then gradually peddle backwards.

Papenhuyzen was willing to attempt anything because he had had enough time away from the game.


Even though he’s only 25 years old, he’s experienced a lot, but he hasn’t given up yet.

“I always said that if I was hurt, I would see Bill again, and sure enough, I had injured my ankle,” Papenhuyzen recalls. “I needed assurance that I was heading in the correct direction.

“I want to keep being the player I was. I don’t want to be mediocre. I want to be someone who is lighting it up, someone who is inspirational and one of the best players in the comp.

“To do that, I needed my body to be back where I needed it to be, and I was confident Bill could help with that.


“Every time I go there he blows my mind. He puts things into perspective as well, and never once doubts your ability to come back and play at the level you were at.

“I felt much more rested and confident when I returned to training [with the Storm] in December, and I knew it would be easy compared to my knee injury.

“I spent three days back in Sydney for the Christmas holiday, but I spent the majority of the time at the club. Along with working with the physiotherapists, I followed Bill’s instructions and added a little bit extra.

“I had already started running and moving by the time we resumed on January 4. I was flying two weeks ago, and I’m back to 100% now.

Papenhuyzen received a synvisc injection last week, a single-dose medication that is administered straight into the knee to maintain lubrication for the ensuing half-year.

His well-known mullet, which has brought in sponsorship money while he has been sidelined, gives him an extra bounce, and he appears fit.

Papenhuyzen appears content and in a positive frame of mind in spite of all the disappointments.

While Nick Meaney and rookie Samoan Sua Fa’alongo have played fullback in the off-season, now is Papenhuyzen’s moment.

He will play in round one. Melbourne won’t be disappointed.


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