It’s been 33 years since Eric Grothe last played a professional game of rugby league, but the Parramatta legend is still very much ‘the Guru’ and is doing what he can to give back by working as a volunteer delivering meals to the elderly.
But while the Paramatta Eels and Australian test winger, nicknamed ‘the Guru’ for his interest in meditation, was thought of by the public as a tough guy, he admits to suffering from low self-esteem at the height of his fame.
Once one of the most recognisable players in the Australian rugby league, scoring 78 tries in 152 matches during a 10-year career in the 1980s, these days he goes mostly unnoticed, and there was no hint of fanfare as the 63-year-old pedalled up on his bicycle to Meals on Wheels in Camden, in western Sydney, recently ready for his delivery run.
After collecting the details and the meals he needed we both jumped in a Meals on Wheels car to start his round.
“I love to help. It makes me feel happy to give back to the community,” Grothe said during our ride-along. “I just had a realisation [one day] that everything in my life was about myself.”
He believes we all should think more about others and what we could do for the community, and delivering meals and having a conversation with someone is a small way to make a difference.
“It’s that spiritual path to want to do something for others without asking for anything in return,” he said.
Most people don’t know that I had no self-esteem. I struggled with believing in myself.
“You get to know their personalities and just to have some banter between me and them is amazing.
“These days people work and that’s all they really do, it’s very hard to get time to do that sort of stuff.
“Humanity’s focus should be, that we should be helping each other, especially those people who are less fortunate. To find that time is really important the more we do that, the better the world will become.”
It may surprise many of his fans, but Grothe knows all too well how easy it is to feel isolated, even when it appears things are OK.
“Most people don’t know that I had no self-esteem,” he revealed about how he felt at the height of his fame. “I struggled with believing in myself.
“I never had that strength and mental toughness that a lot of players played with in my day.”
Back in his heyday Grothe was part of one of the most exciting teams in the sport’s history. Alongside league legends like Peter Stirling, Mick Cronin, Brett Kenny, Ray Price, Bob O’Reilly and Steve Ella, the Eels won four premierships, including three in a row. It was a feat not repeated since Penrith’s grand final win last month – 40 years later.
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Much has changed since then, with bigger stadiums, higher salaries and an improved knowledge of the game’s risks.
Grothe said today’s emphasis on player safety would have “helped a lot” in his day, and he lamented the head injuries he has seen fellow players suffer.
“A lot of the players that I played with, especially the forwards, are feeling the effects of all that sort of stuff,” he said.
“It was a little bit of a badge of honour, or it was a big badge of honour, to get hit, but now the results of all that sort of stuff is when you see some of the players you’ve played with, or beforehand, that struggle with the brain injuries and things that are happening to them.
“I wish these things were in place when we played.”
Main image by Mohammad Youssef.