Aspiring youngsters will face many odds when trying to ‘make it’ in a sporting career, and overcoming those obstacles is what can make or break you, not only as an athlete, but as a person as well, and no one knows this better than 20-year-old Obed Karwhin.
The Ivory Coast native will run out onto the pitch of ANZ Stadium for the first time on Friday afternoon after being named in the Wests Tigers under-20 team – a popular rugby league club in Sydney, Australia. But this is vastly different from the life Obed was living 15 years ago.
“When I was five, we spent one month in the jungle trying to walk from Ivory Coast to Guinea to get away from the war,” Karwhin recalls in an interview with NRL.com.
“And because countries are so small and close to each other, it’s like walking from Sydney to Melbourne. But it took us one month. I can still remember witnessing it, running away from war twice, at the age of two and five years old.”
Obed and his family were caught in the middle of an African war brewing across nations, giving him little hope for a life beyond the confines of his predicament.
Luckily, Karwhin eventually found a way to Australia with his mother and brother when he was eight, took a liking to rugby league and met Blacktown PCYC manager Steve Warwick through a mutual friend, which sparked the dream of an all-African rugby league team: Africa United.
“I will never forget about that. Even though we were unlucky on many occasions and never won, putting on the African jersey meant the world to me,” Karwhin said.
And it evolved from that.with a $10,000 grant as part of the Champions of the West program being given to Warwick and his cause – money that could fund the game’s first African-Australian rugby league academy, based in rugby league’s heartland of western Sydney.
“For these kids, it’s a great opportunity for them to get their mind off the things that they saw in Africa – all the war and drama,” Karwhin said.
“It’s also good to keep them away from trouble, keep them in school, keep them fit and active. It’s possible for everyone, whether you’re playing reps or you’re just playing park football. Rugby league should be enjoyable for everyone and I think PCYC is doing that at the moment.
“Where I’m from, kids will witness some form of violence. Rugby league, I reckon, will be the best sport for them because it’s hard, it’s tough, physically.
“It can also get their mind off the past. It helped me to get my mind off. It’s something I will never forget, but at the same time, playing rugby league gets all the trouble out of my head.”
Working hard in his field, Karwhin was earmarked by Wests Tigers under-20s coach Brett Kimmorley and was promoted to the squad, set to make his debut this week in the Holden Cup – the second division of professional rugby league in Australia.
“Whether I make it in NRL or not, PCYC will always be a part of my heart. Sometimes I train four days a week with Wests Tigers so I go there whatever chance I get to help, and to teach the kids.”
An inspiring story – and we wish Karwhin all the best. You’re making Africa proud.