I’ve found my purpose: Eels star Steve Dresler turns personal tragedy into inspiration

PASSION | STAFF REPORTERS

JUST a few years ago, Steve Dresler was one of the rising stars of the NRL, ranked alongside the likes of Reed Mahoney and Dylan Brown at the Parramatta Eels.

But while the latter two Parra young guns became established first graders, Steve’s career was over before it began.

Medically retired after a spate of injuries, Steve has since turned personal disappointment into a passionate commitment to helping those living with a disability in our communities.

That journey has led to the launch of the What Ability Foundation, with a function at Western Sydney’s CommBank Stadium on Friday, December 3, which is International Day of People with a Disability.

The day will bring together 100 people with a disability accompanied by their families and carers from disability support services across Sydney, as well as a team of professional and semi-professional athletes to help unlock the charity’s first live sporting experience.

Children and young adults with a range of disabilities and their

support workers will access the field, explore the locker rooms and play alongside athletes including Manly Sea Eagles NRL player Sean Keppie, Australian Olympic boxer Harry Garside and Australian Netball player Jamie-Lee Price.

What Ability Foundation is a new registered Australian charity with a mission to unlock community experiences for people living with a disability or diminished capacity and their families.

“Since being medically retired from the NRL, I’ve found my new purpose in life: to be a voice for the innocents of the world through inspiring them to do more, be more, see more and dream more,” said Steve.

NSW Minister for Sport, Multiculturalism, Seniors & Veterans Natalie Ward MLC, NSW Member for Ku-ring-gai Alister Henskens, and Federal Member for Reid Dr Fiona Martin MP will attend the launch of the Foundation, joined by a host of elite athletes across a range of sports.

After his forced retirement, Steve Dresler saw the benefits first-hand of athletes as support workers when he worked as a Welfare Officer at the Eels and as an educator at Giant Steps, a school for children with autism.

This is where the idea of What Ability Pty Ltd, an NDIS-registered disability support service utilising professional and semi-professional athletes as support workers, was born.

Over the last two years, Steve’s innate desire to create a positive impact in the disability sector and broader community has evolved into the idea and establishment of the What Ability Foundation.

The What Ability Foundation is working closely with various state and national sporting bodies, including the National Rugby League, Parramatta Eels, Manly Sea Eagles, Netball Australia, Cricket New South Wales, Football Federation Australia, and others.

The Foundation is also working with Australia’s leading live entertainment promoter, TEG, to provide access to concerts, theatre and family entertainment events across the country.

Steve says of his own journey: “I was just a regular kid who grew up on a farm at Yamba with a dream to play in the NRL. At 21 years old, 14 surgeries later, and four weeks away from my dream becoming a reality, I got a phone call that changed my life forever. I had done my ACL for the third time. There were some dark moments in those next few months.

“Coming to terms with what’s not meant to be hard. I felt like I had my passion taken away from me but falling into this field has been a blessing in disguise.”

Fellow Board Members of the What Ability Foundation include David Sexton, who brings a wealth of knowledge from commercial, charity and for-purpose sectors with more than 25 years of executive leadership and governance experience; Melodie Wight, a finance professional with experience in transformation and driving organisational change; and Charlotte Goninan, who has seven years’ live event experience managing operations, logistics, marketing and delivering amazing experiences.

“The fact that happiness and opportunity is the premise for the Foundation is a rare gem in my eyes. To be a small part of the world who gives back and makes people smile is all I could ask for,” says Charlotte.

Image: Steve Dresler.

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