Zac Guildford lights up cancer sufferer's life

GREG FORD
Last updated 05:00 25/01/2013
Zac Guildford
JOSEPH JOHNSON/Fairfax NZ

CLOSE BOND: Zac Guildford holds Lachie Sutherland on March 1 when Lachie was 4 years old.

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Sam Spratt was right. Zac Guildford - the much vilified All Black - is not a monster. He may be many things; flawed, angry, obsessive.

OPINION: But judging by those leaping to his defence this week, we're slowly gaining a broader appreciation of the man beyond his try-scoring deeds for the Crusaders and late night incidents that have made so many headlines.

Spratt is Guildford's partner, so you'd expect she would leap to her man's defence as she did so eloquently in yesterday's sport pages in The Press. She's stared down her own demons - a near fatal race riding accident - so is well placed to comment on Guildford's battle with the bottle.

So too is another Guildford fan.

The extract below was emailed to me yesterday and I can safely say will take some topping in terms of insight and commentary when it comes to Guildford's character.

There's always another side to a story, isn't there.

Here's Lachie Sutherland's, as told by his mother, Philippa.

"In January of 2012, Chris [her partner] and I were waiting in the CHOC [Christchurch Hospital's children's hematology and oncology centre] day room to meet two Crusaders who were coming to visit the CHOC kids as part of their Crusader commitments. We were two weeks at best into diagnosis, shell shocked and still raw with grief.

[Her son] Lachie had just had surgery to insert a hickman line, had a nasal gastric tube in his nose, and was so sick as the cancer was ravaging his wee body.

"The adjustment for Chris and I was huge, but also for Lachie, who was having to readjust to significant physical changes that were affecting his confidence. The chance to meet with two Crusaders was a much welcomed break from the realities that we were dealing with.

"That day, it was Robbie Fruean and Zac Guildford who were due up at the ward. It was the first time that we'd met Zac, but a relationship was struck that day between Zac and Lachie that would continue throughout the following 12 months. This friendship between the two would come to have a profound impact on Lachie and the way in which he approached his cancer journey, such that only those of us close to Lachie can fully appreciate.

"I have thought long and hard about commenting in such a public forum as Chris and I have always viewed this relationship as private between Lachie and Zac. With all the negative publicity of late, it seemed wrong to not comment and share a little insight into a relationship that we believe has been the most motivating and inspirational element for Lachie throughout his tough journey.

"The encouragement, support and friendship that Zac has shown to our precious son goes above and beyond the requirements of his Crusaders' obligations. For Chris and I, we know a person with empathy and compassion well beyond his years. My enduring image will always be of a little boy, going bald, tubes everywhere, sitting on the floor playing firemen with his rugby idol.

"Words cannot express how grateful we are to Zac for his presence in Lachie's life and for the positive role model he has, and will continue to be."

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If NZRU chief executive Steve Tew is searching for another reason as to why the rugby family should not give up on Guildford - that's after all what families do - then Lachie has provided a rather compelling one, would you say?

- The Press

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