The South Sydney Rabbitohs’ Mario Fenech is a hulking figure.
He is still revered by Rabbitohs supporters as one of the NRL team’s all-time greats, having played 181 of his 274 first-grade games with Souths.
When he crossed the white line, he was recognized for his lack of concern for his own safety.
He was renowned for the chaos and smash of rugby league in the 1980s and 1990s.
Fenech – who was also a strong boxer – has contributed more to rugby league in Australia than any other player.
At the age of just 53, Fenech was diagnosed with early onset dementia, which his doctors attributed to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
Chronic head traumas and recurrent bouts of concussion are the primary causes of CTE, which is a progressively deteriorating brain ailment.
It’s irreversible, and it may be deadly at worst. Fenech, who is currently 60 years old, has the mental age of an ’80-year-old patient.’
He, like many other former players now retired from both Essendon and Saint Kilda, has had to accept the tragic fact of the illness.
The chronic pain in the former Rabbitohs star’s head is a direct consequence of the weekly stress he put his body on the line to win football games.
Rebecca Fenech, Mario’s wife and now caregiver, struggles with Mario’s forgetfulness and comprehension each day.
“He does not remember the moment because the next moment is the new moment,” she explained.
“For example, when my son got married in April, I couldn’t even tell him until (the day of it).
“He knew, but on the morning of it, I said, ‘Today’s the wedding’, and even during the day, I’d say, ‘We’re going to the wedding today… The wedding today’.
“And I wanted to make that a special day because it was probably the last time that maybe we’ll all be able to celebrate”.