BATHURST’S Peter Fitzsimmons was left speechless when he was presented with the Susan Green Memorial Medal for outstanding leadership during the recent Indigenous Australian Invitational Rugby Team tour of the USA and Canada.
Fitzsimmons and his team had experienced the trip of a lifetime – enjoying a host of cultural activities and winning four of their six matches – but the medal elevated it to something even more special for the Bathurst Bulldogs player.
“It meant so much to me. I just tried to go along with the idea of when it’s game time let’s be serious and when it’s time to have some fun let’s experience a few things around.
“I put 100 per cent into my games and I think others followed that lead.
“With it being renamed to the Susan Green Memorial Medal it meant a lot more because Bernie [Green, team forwards adviser] was on the tour with us having just lost Susan.
“It nearly had me in tears. I was fighting them when the medal was presented to me because I wasn’t expecting to win that.”
Bathurst had a strong presence on tour. Aaron Williams (Orange City) was a crucial piece of halves while Peter Nugent (player mentor), Dr Ross Wilson (team doctor) and David Conyers (backs coach and technical adviser) were among the staff.
After a delayed start to their tour the Australian Indigenous team quickly kicked into gear with a 72-19 win over the United States Military Academy side and continued their great form in a 69-19 win over Portland Rugby Union Club.
The Canadian leg of the tour proved to be a tough one for the Australian men, going down 26-12 loss to Quebec Province at Montreal before suffering a 50-21 defeat to the Ontario Blues.
The touring side had a strong finish as they picked up a 97-7 win against the American Indigenous Warriors side at Denver and a 58-7 win over Long Beach.
“The games in the States were easier in regards to the scoreline but they were still very physical,” Fitzsimmons said.
"We were disappointed with the two games in Canada.
“We played those games 12 hours apart and the bodies weren’t really up for that.
“I’ve made friends for life out of this and we’re already making plans to catch up after only a week back.
“We had a focus and goal, especially around our game times. Outside of the games it was about having a bit of fun and seeing the sights.”
The tour wasn’t just about the action on the field but the building of bridges between cultures.
“I loved a lot of the traditional stuff we did, such as the pow wow,” Fitzsimmons said.
“In the game we had against the native American team in Denver they were nowhere near the best quality team we played against but they were some of the best people we played.
“The relationship between the two teams was awesome. It didn’t matter what the scoreline was. It was a great game to be involved in.”
The touring party also did volunteer work at a teen shelter, took part in coaching clinics and visited stunning sights such as Niagara Falls.
Nugent said the tour left a great impact on both players and staff, and lived up to its aim of “developing leaders’.
“Peter was so impressed with the Iroquois there that when we got to Los Angeles. towards the end of the tour, he and I packed up the didgeridoo and sent it back to them.
“Peter played well and lead well. He made a great impact on the trip.
“Aaron played a major role in our first XV side at halfback and was always smiling throughout the trip. He had a great time.”