From AFL star to Rhodes Scholar: how a UQ student tackled concussion head-on

29 October 2020

UQ final-year student Justin Clarke is bound for Oxford University after being named Queensland’s 2021 Rhodes Scholar.

The former Brisbane Lions AFL player will graduate in December from a dual program with a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) (Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering) and a Bachelor of Science (Mathematics).

Clarke focused on his studies after he was forced to retire from the AFL in 2016 because of concussion.

Listen to Clarke's story about his concussion challenges, and how he transitioned from AFL star to a stellar student, in the UQ ChangeMakers podcast.


UQ ChangeMakers · Ep 5 | Justin Clarke: tackling concussion head-on

“After my football career ended on medical advice following a severe concussion, I began studying aerospace engineering, a discipline I am passionate about and in which I want to make a difference,” Clarke said.

“Hypersonics is an area of active aerospace research which can radically change the way we travel around the world and improve access to space.”

As an engineering intern at Boeing Defence Australia, he has experience across the full systems engineering lifecycle.

While on summer placement with Australia’s Defence Science and Technology Group gave Clarke experience in researching active vehicle blast protection, which solidified his desire to pursue a research career.

Clarke has been a consistently high achiever, receiving many Dean’s Commendation for Academic Excellence while at UQ, adding to his awards during high school.

Subscribe to the UQ ChangeMakers podcast series on iTunes.

QBI's game-changing concussion study needs athletes: Find out more


"I was out for about 20 seconds. There were a few issues regarding spinal injuries and that sort of stuff, but I guess that was the moment when my career ended. So I went from being a 22 year old, living the dream of being an AFL footballer trying to attack it as best he could, to suddenly having a minor brain injury and not being able to pursue the sport that he loves, the career that he loves, and being forced to, I guess, to go into a completely different career."

Belinda McDougall: Welcome to UQ ChangeMakers, a podcast series where we interview some of the most influential and inspiring members of the UQ community. My name is Belinda McDougall.

Katie Rowney: And I’m Katie Rowney. In this episode, we tackle the issue of concussion in sport, and chat with UQ student and former AFL star Justin Clarke.

Belinda: Justin was at the peak of his game as a key defender for the Brisbane Lions when a freak accident at training in 2016 brought an early end to his career at just 22 years of age. He is now an advocate for concussion research through the Queensland Brain Institute, and despite ongoing symptoms, is focussed on completing his degree in aerospace engineering. Justin, welcome.

Justin Clarke: Thank you for having me.

Belinda: Now we want to go back to 2016 and understand where you were in your career as you went into that season. What had you achieved and where were you going?

Justin: So at that point in time it was a very normal pre-season. Just getting through day to day training. Tackling all the little bits and pieces that I needed to improve on to become a better footballer, and trying to attack that as best as possible. Like, for example, my footwork had a few issues and all these little bits and pieces that for me to develop into a better footballer, I had to really improve on. So I was part of the, I felt as though I was part of the best 22 and I hadn’t been dropped in the years before that, so I was part of the senior 22 and wanting to really establish myself as being part of a good team, and being a strong component of that.

Katie: So that was your goal, but of course something happened that made you have to change your perspectives and goals. Can you walk us through that day?

Justin: Yeah, so I can’t remember too much from that period, but I guess it was a very normal pre-season day, I guess. It was a Monday in January. We’d had boxing in the morning and some weights, and main session in the afternoon, and it was getting to a really fun part of the season, where, of the pre-season. Pre-seasons are horrible, but you get to a point where you start to play a game, and there’s game simulations and you start to actually really enjoy the training and want to get to training in the morning rather than just waking up and think ‘Oh no, I’ve got to run another two kilometres’, or all that sort of stuff. So game simulation, and it was a very, very normal game simulation, not too much contact involved with it, but unfortunately for me it was a very basic marking contest that I was involved with. Got flipped over mid-air, and as I came over, my head collected a player’s knee that was running in the opposite direction. So I was out for about 20 seconds, there were a few issues regarding spinal injuries and that sort of stuff, but I guess that was the moment when my career ended. So I went from being a 22 year old, living the dream of being an AFL footballer trying to attack it as best he could, to suddenly having a minor brain injury and not being able to pursue the sport that he loves, the career that he loves, and being forced to, I guess, to go into a completely different career.

Belinda: So I grew up watching AFL, and I’ve seen some cracking screamers go wrong, What, you know, most people get up and shake their head and off they go and play, but what happened to you from that moment forwards?

Justin: Yeah, and that’s something that I’ve been in plenty of worse situations than that and haven’t been concussed or concussed badly, and so that was the surprising thing. I sort of thought that I might have a week off, which in pre-season as I said, might be not such a bad thing to have a little holiday, but the symptoms of not being able to concentrate, having to be put in a dark room with minimal noise, no TV, no screens, that was sort of, that period which should have been a week just stretched out for one week, two weeks, three weeks, until it started to become a month past, which is when we started to do a bit more formal testing in terms of going to see the neuropsychologist to assess exactly what’s going on with my head in terms of is there memory loss? Is there permanent damage? Is there cognitive loss as well? So that was sort of the progression from that point on. And I guess it was, I know that I had a lot of troubles in terms of physical activities as well, I couldn’t run at all, I couldn’t run, I could barely walk. Getting up and down the stairs of my Queenslander was really difficult. And so I would only be able to get outside and walk along the path and park during night when it was a bit cooler, because as soon as my heart rate was even elevated sort of above 85-90 beats per minute, I’d start to really struggle, and I would lie down on the ground and sort of have a little nap in the middle of this park and I would always walk with my dog, and she’d sort of sit next to me and look after me, and once I was right to go, then off we’d walk again. So it was just progressing that from a very basic walk in walking maybe 500 metres, to 600 – 700 metres, 800 metres, finally hit the kilometre. I remember, I couldn’t tell you how long post it was, but I think it was about maybe two months? Two or three months post when I first ran again. It was at West End, I think markets were on and it was a nice and quiet morning and I had a little run and that feeling that I, yeah, that there is some improvement was something that was really nice to be able to see that there was improvement going on, but it was very slow going in terms of coming back from what should have been a very short term injury, and an injury that shouldn’t have stopped a career.

Belinda: You said that it took a couple of days before you realised that you needed some additional testing, so what sort of tests were they, what did they discover?

Justin: Yeah, so it was, I think it was three days post we did a SCAT3 Assessment which is a very common sporting assessment, which is very basic concentration, memory, it’ll be on a computer and they’ll flip cards and you’ll work out, you know, try and remember what cards are being shown, what haven’t been shown, very basic memory and pattern awareness. And I managed to pass that test very early on, which is really surprising, and it shows I guess, how hard these things are to quantify and to make it objective rather than subjective. So from there we went another two weeks I think, two weeks to about a month, where we were waiting for me to get well enough to be able to actually concentrate for an extended period of time, because the neuropsychology testing, neuropsychological testing is taken over three, maybe four hours. And I had to do that in, I’d have a week between each one, and I’d do it in an hour block, and by the end of that hour I would be able to do nothing for the rest of the day and for the next day and a bit. I’d be at home, completely, very, very, very quiet in terms of what I was doing for the rest of that week. But the purpose of that testing was to test my cognitive and memory function, which was very hard because I didn’t have a baseline to compare it against to. But as a rough guide, what they were looking for was a match between cognitive and memory function. All of the MRI’s that I’d had as well came up completely clear, structurally it was completely sound, you know, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t have been able to recover quicker, except I didn’t. And so what the neuropsychological testing enabled us to do was to actually quantify some of what wasn’t shown by the scans, and work out where we can improve. So certain aspects of my memory was significantly down, so about a third of where my cognitive function was, and as a rough estimate, they should have been roughly equal. So it didn’t come as a surprise to me because my memory was so bad. Again, if I was going for a walk, I’d often call Mum and Dad, or I’d try to call Mum and Dad. But I know for them it was really difficult because I would slur my words a lot, and I’d get lost mid-sentence. So I would completely lose my track and my train of thought. In a conversation, I’d be rearing to go with something to say, and then I would lose my place, slur my words, stop and then completely forget it. They’d have to remind me, then I’d forget again, and so conversations were really hard. And being 2000 kilometres away from them didn’t really help too much either. So for them it was quite difficult as well.

Belinda: That must have been frustrating as an elite athlete, being so strong and capable, to suddenly not even being able to walk too far without having to take a rest.

Justin: Yeah, exactly. I mean I was in peak condition, I was a young man wanting to do what my body could do and take my head off and just look at what was underneath and I was fine. I was completely fine, I was ready for action, I was ready for the season and chomping at the bit to actually get in and play games, but it was just my head and nothing to do with my muscles that was stopping me which was something which was extremely frustrating. But I guess fortunately I can’t remember too much of those feelings because yeah, my memory was pretty badly affected. So, and not long term, but just sort of that period is very fuzzy, so I guess I don’t have too many mental scars from that period, like I just don’t know what I was really thinking or what I was going through at that point in time.

Katie: It would have been a very difficult period for you, and I know you say you can’t remember it, and perhaps it’s a blessing, but had you ever considered seeking some help to deal with it mentally? Because it would have been very confronting and very challenging emotionally and mentally to deal with that kind of

Justin: I never really went to see anybody at all. I guess I just tried to get on with things as best as possible. So I think in semester two of that year, so about six months later, I’d enrolled, or I’d enrolled myself in UQ beforehand, I’d forgotten that I’d actually enrolled myself, and what degree I’d put myself

Katie: I mean that happens to a lot of our students

Justin: Yeah, exactly. But, so I didn’t really know what I’d put myself down for. But then I ended up doing a very basic engineering, first year engineering course. I guess that pulled me forwards, rather than keeping me stuck in what was going on and the downsides. Because as a kid I’d always been very strong with my academic results, and was much more focussed on academic side of things rather than sporting. Sport was always something that I really enjoyed and was an outlet, but school was what I loved doing. So I never thought that I was going to get drafted in the first place, I always thought that I was going to go to Adelaide, go to uni, study aerospace engineering and go from there. So I guess my life restarted in a way at that point in time, because it had been put on hold at the moment when I got drafted. And so that little chunk of time which was so surprising to me stopped, and then I was back on the old path that I always thought that I was going to be on. So I guess there was always a lot of positives in terms of I’m going to be coming out of my degree at a younger age, and that is not a bad thing. Hopefully it will make me more competitive, and there will be upside in that. I guess that’s the take away from it was that yes, I’ve lost something massive, but there is still a lot of positives to go along with. So as long as I can shoe that in a decent manner, then there’s no reason why I should be downcast about life.

Katie: And I believe you got your pilot’s license while you were still in high school, so obviously this is a career you’ve been wanting for a while?

Justin: Yeah

Katie: Why are you interested in that?

Justin: Again, country kid. On a farm we always had big wedge tailed eagles that would get up on the thermals, particularly, we had a block that was a little bit north of our place, and there were some really good thermals that they’d always go off there, and it was so cool, even from a young kid, I’d just look out the ute window with Dad and I’d go ‘Oh, how cool’s that?’ and then I’d ask him a million questions about how it worked, how they were doing it, what they were doing, you know, how they fed, what, how long was their wing span and all this stuff and he’d sort of try and navigate all the questions as best he could. But I know again, sort of half our trip between that block and home and I’d ask him a bajillion questions on the way up and then I’d be falling asleep on the way home because I’d just be knackered from asking all the questions and being so fascinated by the wildlife and everything that was there that I guess from being so fascinated with those wedgies as a kid, I guess it went and transitioned into being passionate about school and asking a lot of questions at school and enjoying maths and that sort of stuff. My uncle is a pilot and a glider pilot in the past, and he I guess introduced me to the fact that you can be a pilot, which was really cool and then through school there was an opportunity to go over to another school in Port Pirie and have a crack at learning how to fly a plane as part of a schooling subject, and I thought ‘Oh, you beauty, oh, how good’s that?’, and so that was where it sort of really escalated in terms of being a bit of an interest to being something that I was really, really interested in and wanted to sort of pursue. And so I guess doing that subject, then the next obvious step for me was ‘Oh, how could would it be to be a pilot in the Air force?’ And so I applied in Year 11 and

Belinda: Too tall?

Justin: I got knocked back for being too tall, yeah. And so I went ‘well then, what would be just as cool as flying? I guess designing them or being involved in them, that would be pretty neat, so that was when I sort of started to set aerospace engineering as being my goal post school.

Katie: School was your love, not something everyone can say, but sport was a hobby, which is fantastic. What did it feel like to get drafted? How did that process happen for you?

Justin: So I was playing country footy, three hours north of Adelaide, I was very much a country footballer. I didn’t go to private school to pursue footballing. There was a couple of opportunities that sort of popped up where teams would say ‘Do you want to come down to Adelaide and play for us?’, and I’d go ‘No, I’m not going to travel three hours there and back, or there and another three hours back just to go to training and play on the weekend. That’s not fair on myself and my studies or on my parents either’, so I just played country footy. I was playing against men when I was about 15 I think that I first started playing against men, so I was exposed to a reasonable level of football at that point in time, and in a different way to what the kids in Adelaide would have been, and the players who were playing in state league and against other state representatives. So I guess I was very, it was very unlikely for me to get drafted at that point in time. In Year 12, I’d been fortunate enough to play a bit of association and zone level football against other country footballers, so there was a bit of promise that I was showing there and the team, North Adelaide in the SANFL. They said ‘Don’t stress about training, just come down in school holidays, play one game for us, that’s all we ask, and then next year you can come down.’ So I played one game in the reserves, did okay, managed to get in the best players. And then from that, two weeks, I think it was two weeks later, I was sitting studying in a room, and Dad walks in and says ‘Oh, Justin, you won’t believe who I’ve got on the phone!’, and I say ‘Oh, righto Dad, who’s after me?’ and you know ‘It’s the Sydney Swans’, ‘What? That’s ridiculous!’ It was just so far out of what I’d ever conceived, it was something that was really unexpected and just completely mind blowing at that point in time. And so from that point on it was getting calls from recruiters about what was going on, and they’d come down and watch country footy in the middle of the bush and to sort of look at this kid and say ‘We can’t compare him against anything that we know about, but should we give him a shot?’ And so that was sort of my, I guess the opportunity that I took, and then I was fortunate enough that the Lions asked me up to do some training before the rookie draft and they took a bit of a punt on me, and yeah, so I was extremely fortunate to get drafted, and very thankful that the Lions took the risk that they did.

Katie: How hard was it to make that decision then to retire from football? What lead to that?

Justin: I guess the moment I knew that I was going to retire was the last session of the neuropsych analysis, where I got told that my memory was a third, or aspects of my memory was a third of what it should have been, and I went ‘that’s not okay’, and I’m definitely not okay with running the risk of having further brain injuries. Additionally the lady sort of told me ‘You’d be an idiot to play football again’. And I guess at that point in time I knew that I had to retire, no matter how many people I was letting down, because I guess first and foremost I felt like I was letting myself down in a way, that I’d worked so hard and come from so far back to be able to get to this point, but also all the people that had sort of come on that ride with me, and my hometown, to have the whole, the whole community was sort of on the ride with me in a way, so it was a little bit tough to realise that yeah, I was sort of letting them down in a way, and they’ve been fantastic and very much understanding, but I guess I still feel that I’ve let them down in a little way. So yeah, I guess that was when I knew that my career was going to end. In terms of the decision making process, it was extremely easy, because I got told ‘you’re not playing football again’. I guess I was more scared, so after that testing I went down to Melbourne to see a neurologist down there, and he told me the same thing, but before I saw him, I was dead scared that he was going to say ‘It’s your choice’. Because that’s when it would have been extremely difficult to have made a decision. I would have had so many conflicting emotions, I would have wanted to keep trying but then there was the risk. I honestly don’t know what path I would have gone down. So to have that decision taken away from me was something that was really, really fortunate.

Belinda: You spoke about the decision was taken away from you, which made it easier for you. How do you feel when you do see some of these athletes decide to keep playing on despite having some very serious knocks?

Justin: I guess there’s, there’s two parts to that question; the first part is the fact that in a game, athletes will just want to compete. They will do whatever it takes to keep on playing. I’ve had, and I’ll just use myself as an example, but you know, you’ll pop a shoulder out and you’ll get a local anaesthetic, strap it back up and you’re back out there in five minutes because that’s what you want to do, that’s what you do for the team. And that’s not to say that I’m brave or anything, that’s just what competitors at the elite level will do. They’ll do whatever it takes to keep on competing, because that’s what they love, it’s what you train to do, it’s what you want to do. So I guess in terms of that, it’s really difficult with concussion for a player to say ‘No, I’m out’, and nearly impossible for them to. So that’s where I think it’s really important that we get the testing in place and having accurate tests so that we know if the player’s concussed or not so that we can take the decision away from them whether or not they go back out into the field. And it’s something that the testing needs to be good enough so that whether it’s safe or not is identified and accurately diagnosed, essentially. I guess the second part to it is the athletes that have had the concussion have finished the game, and then that, they were looking at it. And then that, that’s a side of things that’s really, really difficult and again it comes to research so we can know what and accurately diagnose, what the condition is, and the risks associated with it. So I guess ideally, every player has that decision taken away from them, and if they choose to go against medical opinion, then that’s their prerogative, and good luck to them, but the medical opinion, it would be really nice if we’re in a place where the medical opinion was sufficiently strong that the player doesn’t have to make a decision where it’s ‘Oh, it’s up to you, mate’.

Belinda: Which leads into the question, really, are we doing enough to promote the issue, and are sporting teams themselves doing enough to protect their players?

Justin: Oh, I wholeheartedly feel as though AFL is. I don’t know enough about NRL and Union and the other big contact sports to make an educated opinion on that. The use of video analysis, the research, sorry, the protocols around what happens after a big hit or if there’s suspicion of concussion, everything around that is really, really good, because it is at a point now where the decision is pretty well taken away from the player, and that’s a really good thing, and it’s much safer nowadays for the players compared to the past. I think that pretty well every club and every individual is aware of the issue, because at some point or another, either you or someone you know in one of those teams has had concussion and has been affected by it, whether it’s permanent or not, you sort of look after your mates and try and protect them as much as you can from themselves in those sort of situations and I think that’s something that’s really, really well understood. What I feel as though is going to drive the improvement of safety in and hopefully allow more players to keep on playing in a safe way is the research, and that’s where it’s really important, because that’s what drives the protocols and the policies.

Belinda: So I’m at the Queensland Brain Institute with Senior Research Fellow, Dr Fatima Nasrallah, who is one of the scientists working on a major concussion research study. Dr Nasrallah, can you explain to us what concussion is, and what it actually does to the brain?

Dr Fatima Nasrallah: Concussion is a knock to the head, defined as a knock to the head, and it can be of various severities, whether mild, moderate or severe, and what it really does to the head from a mechanism point of view is that once the head is hit by a force, the brain inside the head or the skull starts to move around and hit the sides of the brain. And depending on the severity of that impact, the consequences can vary.

Belinda: So you’re doing a concussion study at the moment, can you describe the aim of that study, and also the processes?

Fatima: Yes, so we’re aiming to make sports a better and safer way to play, in a sense. So what we’re aiming to do is determine the recovery period after a concussion. At the moment, most clubs identify the time to sit out very arbitrarily, whether it’s a week, and based on clinical symptoms, but we know that the clinical symptoms that the players experience are not really related to what’s actually happening at the level of the brain. So you might, your symptoms might clear out in a week or so, but the brain still is trying to heal, and those timings don’t really correlate. So we’re trying to use magnetic resonance technology to be able to determine what is happening at the level of the brain, and how long it’s taking for the brain to recover after an impact.

Belinda: Because I mean, it’s a very important part of our body, and it’s so complex, isn’t it?

Fatima: It’s very complex. I mean you can extrapolate from a knee injury, for example, that’s something that we can feel, if your knee is injured, you can’t move around, and you wait until it heals, and obviously you can’t play until it’s healed. With the brain, it’s a very complex organism that is, if it gets injured, it’s able to compensate for the injury, but it doesn’t mean that it’s not hurt. So if you keep on damaging it while it’s trying to heal itself, that’s where the longer term consequences lie. And that’s what we’re trying to understand, because if we can identify what that real recovery period is, we’d be able to devise proper guidelines of when people need to go back to play.

Belinda: So what are the processes of the study?

Fatima: So people would have to come in for a baseline scan. What we’ve identified is that if you have a scan, every person is very different, and if you were to take a person who’s had a concussion and compare them to somebody who is completely normal, it’s not really relevant. So what we’re trying to do in this study, which makes it a bit more difficult, is to get every person’s baseline scan when they haven’t had a concussion for at least six months, we get them to come for an MRI, to take a saliva sample, and then once they’ve had a concussion, then they come back within the first 36 hours, and at 7, 14 and 30 days, and that’s how we monitor the progression of the injury over time, and we can devise what time exactly the brain has sort of healed compared to the clinical symptoms. And at each of those time points we take a saliva sample. And so the whole aim at the end is to be able to come up with the sample with the marker in the saliva that reflects exactly what’s happening at the level of the brain from the MRI scans. And so you’d be able, by the end of this study hopefully, to just take a saliva sample and say I know this marker is elevated, until this marker comes down back to its original level, this is where the brain has sort of cleared.

Belinda: And that’s so simple, just a saliva test rather than bringing them in for an MRI scan

Fatima: Yeah, but you need to do the background work to be able to understand how the brain is healing and not rely, not relate the marker to the clinical symptoms, but relate it to more the brain changes.

Katie: You’re an ambassador for our Queensland Brain Institute. Can you tell me about that role?

Justin: Yeah, so I guess being at UQ and QBI being at UQ as well, they sort of contacted me and asked me if I’d come on board, and it’s something that I immediately thought would be a really worthwhile thing, because I guess it’s, I can add my voice to their message. So if we can get more participants in the current study which is based on concussion and considering the baseline levels to what’s happening after concussion, then we’ll get more understanding. And so it would be remise of me not to be on board with that.

Belinda: Because it’s been a couple of years since your incident now, where are you? You talk about where you were immediately afterwards, but how are you today?

Justin: It’s a really funny one, and I guess it, in a lot of ways vindicates my decision to retire. But the slightest knock and I am pretty cactus I guess would be a term that I could use. So yeah, for example, Easter weekend I got a bump on my head from closing a boot lid, and within, I’m not sure the timeframe, I think it might have been a couple minutes, I was on the floor sleeping, and I can’t remember too much of what happened. And it was just one of those things, things that will happen to me. In terms of how that affects me ongoing, I’m pretty well right with uni and concentration wise now, which is really, really nice. I guess I feel as though I’m back to normal. There’s a few things that I know that I can’t do in activities. Physical activity is a bit of a roller coaster in terms of I can be really good for a little bit, but have a little bit of a setback and really put myself backwards quite a way. For example I was doing a bit of rowing with UQ, and down in New South Wales states and made the decision to row in 47 degree heat and gave myself a bit of heatstroke which was really silly, and that really knocked me around for about six months. So it was I guess it’s on me to be responsible, but also be aware of how small little incidences will happen, its life, how can we sort of, manoeuvre and adjust through those incidences to make sure that the effect is minimised.

Belinda: You are still of an age where you could have been in the midst of your career. I mean we understand that it was an easy decision to make when you’re talking about protecting your brain, but do you watch AFL still? And how do you feel?

Justin: I’ve only just recently been able to sort of, be around footy, and watch AFL. I was never much of a TV footy watcher, like I would much prefer going outside and playing and doing it myself and having fun with my mates, so if there was an opportunity to play outside versus watch on TV, then I would be outside every time. So I guess I have watched a lot less AFL on TV, but I’m sort of coming back into the, into the realms of being a fan where I can watch, watch the Lions or the Crows who are my two teams then, and watch them and go, you know, I’m okay with watching it and I don’t get frustrated at myself and I don’t feel like I’m letting the other players, particularly with the Lions, down. Because I know early on that was a pretty strong feeling that I was, I felt as though that I would be able to, if I was out there I could help, help them, and sort of help particularly the back line which was quite young, so I felt like I was letting them down a little bit. But that sort of thing has become more reasonable, I’ve, I guess I’ve adjusted to my life now a little bit more, and to the extent where I’m involved with the Western Magpies in Sherwood. So, doing a bit of assistant coaching out there and really enjoying it, which is something that I’ve really was surprised about, and it’s only reasonably recent that I could get there, have a really good session, enjoy the session, but most importantly drive home happy. Because that was the part that I always struggled with was the drive home afterwards where I would go ‘oh I wish I was able to play still’. Whereas now I can leave it and go ‘what a session, that was really good, I can’t wait until next training’.

Belinda: Thanks so much for sharing your story with us, it’s been really an interesting journey. Now before we let you go, we do have a short segment that we call Spare Change in which we get to know you a little bit better, although you have shared a lot, I must admit. But these are some rapid fire questions, so are you ready?

Justin: Sure am

Belinda: Right, here we go. What’s the one fact that listeners wouldn’t know about you?

Justin: I used to play, or when I was a very small kid, I played footy against myself with my two imaginary friends, Mike and Tony Modra, who’s a famous Adelaide Crows player.

Belinda: Did you always win?

Justin: Yeah, absolutely, just after the siren went and I’d kick the winning goal, yeah.

Belinda: What is the one question that you’re sick of being asked?

Justin: When are you going to graduate?

Belinda: Good one, good one. Now if you could go back in time by ten years, what advice would you give to your younger self?

Justin: Nah, keep, keep sticking at it, don’t worry about the bullies too much, they’ll be right, and yeah, keep trying your best at everything that you do.

Belinda: Sounds like you already have taken your own advice there. So who or what is your biggest influence in life?

Justin: My Dad would definitely be number one, and then close up there with him would be my two older brothers and then one of the assistants at the Lions, Murray Davis really helped me transition from being a country lad into being sort of being a bit more of a well-rounded human being.

Belinda: That’s lovely. Now the hardest one everyone says, if you had to choose a piece of music that would best describe you, which song would you play?

Justin: I reckon I’ll go with maybe ‘Rocket Man’ by Elton John.

Belinda: Love it!

Justin: Yeah, I think that that was, that’ll be the one that I’ll settle on, yeah.

Belinda: That’s the end of another episode of UQ ChangeMakers. If you want to learn more about concussion or take part in the study, you can visit the Queensland Brain Institute’s website at and click on the ‘Get Involved’ tab. And while you’re online, don’t forget to visit ChangeMakers at, where you can also subscribe to ChangeMakers magazine. I’m Belinda McDougall

Katie: And I’m Katie Rowney. Our podcast was produced by Michael Jones and Jessica McGaw. If you enjoyed this episode, tell your friends or colleagues, leave a review on iTunes, or email us, at If you want to create change, tune in next time, when we interview another inspiring member of the UQ community. Thanks for listening.

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