Jayden Nikorima owns his story, mistakes and all, and is using the lessons he has learnt to help young people find the right path and determine their own destiny.
He has come a long way since the devastating lows that followed a lucrative NRL contract, poor choices and a failure to take accountability and learn from his mistakes.
The 24-year-old debuted with the Sydney Roosters at the age of 19 on a contact worth more than $700,000 for three years.
“I was kind of a selfish kid. When I went over there I had a lot of bad habits – one of them was I never had any consequences for my actions even through school, it was wiped under the table. When you’re put out in the open world, as my parents said, you’ll get found our pretty quickly especially if you lie,” Nikorima recalls.
“I was around drugs, alcohol, girls and I had a lot of money and no family around me. I got dropped in round 10 and it was probably the first time when my back had been against the wall. I’d never been dropped in junior footy and I didn’t really know what to do. So, I started hanging around people who made me feel good about myself.
“Those people were not rugby league-related, and they were the ones surrounded by drugs and alcohol. I got myself caught around the wrong crowd.”
Two incidents involving drugs and lying on a statutory declaration resulted in his contract being torn up. He was later charged with drink driving.
It is a story Nikorima is not proud of, but it is his story and he now believes personal accountability is important.
The Dolphins offered him a second chance and he was invited to take part in a preseason camp, where he took part in workshops run by professional development specialist Glenn Azar.
“I was still on the verge of not knowing if I wanted to play footy or go about life outside of footy,” Nikorima says.
Azar spoke about his son, who has a disability, and made the squad appreciate how privileged they were. It had a profound impact on Nikorima.
“I reached out to him after the camp. I knew he trained his daughter Alyssa to climb Mt Everest twice. I knew he knew how to push people to be high performers and get them to where they want to be,” he says.
“As hard as it was, I reached out for help and it’s honestly one of the best things that I’ve ever done.”
Nikorima has not only grown personally, as a result, he is now working with Azar to mentor at-risk teenagers aged 11-17 years through camps and workshops.
“It’s pretty much to empower our youth. We found through the 500 kids we’ve had on our camp, I think it’s 70 per cent have anxiety,” he says.
“Our camps are to give them to tools to be able to deal with all the anxiety that’s coming and will continue to come and teach them to communicate as well.
“If you’re not able to communicate who you are as a person, the world will tell you who you are. That’s pretty much what happened to my story. If we can create a platform where human connections are the main tool, we put them on a better path than I was on.”
Nikorima says they are seeking government and private sector funding to continue the work they are doing and help more young people buckling under the pressure of modern life.
A dislocated shoulder and subsequent surgery forced him to leave preseason training with the Vodafone Warriors, earlier this year, but he made his return to the field a couple of weeks ago with the Brighton Roosters.
“I’ve got to get a few games in with Brighton Roosters and then I should feed in to the Dolphins' Queensland Cup side and hopefully make my way back in, whether that’s at the Warriors at the end of this year. My goal this year is to get another preseason at another NRL club,” he says.
“I was always told footy should be No.2, all through growing up and it was always No.1. Now, all this personal development and helping these kids became No.1 and I definitely believe it’s helped my footy grow to a new level as well.
“Especially the last 12 months, my life has gone up. I’ve done these camps, I’ve got back into an NRL preseason, I got engaged to my partner Christa and we’ve got a baby on the way now. My life has changed, I can’t wipe the smile off my face.”
To find out more, visit buildingbetterhumansproject.com.au
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