Jaiden French“I think it might be time to hang up the footy boots,” says GO Scholar Jaiden French, laughing on the phone from home in country Armidale.  He’d be smiling as well, if it weren’t for the three new titanium plates holding his jaw together after it was smashed playing his last rugby league game of the year for Endeavour Sports High.  His second broken jaw in footy. Right in the middle of his HSC exams.  Ouch.

Not that all the fuss (and pain) phased Jaiden.  “I’d finished my English exams and the footy game was that Friday. The bell had just gone to end the game. A player hit me in the jaw with his shoulder and it fractured in two places,” Jaiden explains. “The next week I did my Maths, Biology and PDPE exams with a broken jaw on a liquid diet.  Then I had a week off before my Chemistry exam, so I had the surgery. That was when my jaw really started to hurt!”

A GO scholar for his final two years at Endeavour Sports High, Jaiden’s worked hard, on and off the field. Nominated for the 2020 NRL Schoolboy Cup Academic High Performers, he finished first in his year for biology and PDHPE and third in English. “It’s a bit daunting now that it’s all over,” says Jaiden. “I’m still recovering from the surgery, which will take another 3 months, so I’m hoping to get a job while I’m back home.”

Home is Armidale in country NSW, a good 500 kilometres from his school in Sydney’s Sutherland Shire.  In 2017, Jaiden made the move from Armidale to live in the Kirinari Hostel at Sylvania – home for 15 Indigenous boys from across NSW going to schools in the area – so he could begin Year 9 at Endeavour Sports High. “I was at Armidale High and heard about the Targeted Sports Program for Rugby League at Endeavour and thought it would be a great experience,” says Jaiden. “I’d only been to Sydney a couple of times, so it was exciting, but scary at first settling in. I missed Armidale too.

“Becoming a GO scholar was the reconnection to culture I really needed while I was in Sydney,” says Jaiden.  “At my old school we had painting and dancing, and I’d had good connection to culture.  My clan is Anaiwan and Kamilaroi.  Dad is from Moree, and we’d go up there a lot.

“What really interested me at the GO Foundation were the opportunities – the mentoring days and the partner connections. It’s also been great to hear the other students’ stories.  People have had such different experiences. I’ve loved all that,” says Jaiden.  “Since moving to Sydney, I’ve also been involved in the Koori Knockout, which I enjoy as it also connects me to my culture, my community and my sport.”

Earlier this year, when Kirinari Hostel closed during the worst of the pandemic, Jaiden went home to Armidale.  “Being introduced to Iso and then having to go home and still keep up with my HSC studies online was stressful,” says Jaiden. “At home I have three younger sisters and one brother, and it was hard to find the motivation to keep up. But I did it!

“Next year I’m planning to go to the Australian Catholic University or Sydney University to study a Bachelor of Physiotherapy,” Jaiden says. “I’m hoping to become a sports physiotherapist and maybe work in a professional club.  I’ll be watching from the sidelines for sure!”