FAMILY FIRST: Cameron, Colin, Gabe and Daniel moved to Yeppoon in 2004 and found a family within the Yeppoon Swans AFL club.
FAMILY FIRST: Cameron, Colin, Gabe and Daniel moved to Yeppoon in 2004 and found a family within the Yeppoon Swans AFL club. Genie Hawk

Yeppoon community hero honoured after heart breaking diagnosis

IT'S hard to believe how one woman could be dealt so much heartache and still be as strong as Gabe Watkin.

The selfless and inspirational Yeppoon woman is a mother, wife, friend, volunteer to Yeppoon Swans AFL club and motor neuron disease sufferer.

On July 31, Gabe was officially diagnosed with MND after months of speculation, self diagnosis and desperate hope the initial reports were wrong.

The progressive disease effects two Australians each day attacking the nerves which control a person's muscle movement.

MND does not discriminate and struck Gabe when she least expected it.

"It all started with a sore shoulder and I started getting some cramping in my arms," she said.

Gabe thought little of the symptoms, upped her magnesium and aimed to hydrate more.

When the doctors confirmed her fears Gabe said it "knocked her socks off."

"I was completely devastated," she said.

The 49-year-old received her diagnosis after a whirlwind year for the Watkin family and only four days after she buried her mum.

Gabe's dad had also passed away, her husband Colin was diagnosed with skin cancer and her son Cameron was frequenting hospital for pancreatitis all in the space of two years.

 

Gabe and her husband Colin Watkin.
Gabe and her husband Colin Watkin. Genie Hawk

"I was only vaguely aware of the disease but never ever thought I'd get it, I thought we'd had our run of bad luck," she said.

"But life deals you what it deals you and you have to get yourself together and keep going," she said.

In the wake of the devastating news and 13 years of dedication to the tight-knit Yeppoon Swans club, Gabe was honoured earlier this month with it's most prestigious award, as the newest Life Member.

There was not a dry eye in the house at the Yeppoon Swans presentation night as Gabe couldn't find the words to thank her supportive community.

Yeppoon Swans club president Peter Watkins had been sitting on the decision before Gabe's diagnosis and asked her around for a cup of coffee to break the news.

"I knew it wasn't for the coffee," she said.

Gabe's membership followed in the footsteps of three other influential women who left their mark on the typically male dominated club.

 

Gabe Watkin receiving her life membership to the Yeppoon Swans from close friend Rachel Boyd.
Gabe Watkin receiving her life membership to the Yeppoon Swans from close friend Rachel Boyd. Shayla Bulloch

"I was so honoured to be among a handful of women on that board," she said.

Since moving to the Capricorn Coast in 2004, Gabe has spent her Saturdays up before the sun in preparation for huge days of competition ahead.

You could find her running the canteen, helping in the sheds, strapping up players and offering her sports science knowledge wherever she could.

"One of the first things I did when we moved was get in touch with the footy club for the boys," she said.

"I rocked up at the club one night to register and the rest is history."

Gabe has since been a vital part of the Swans community even when her sons, Daniel and Cameron, grew out of the league.

 

Gabe Watkin and her two sons Cameron (left) and Daniel.
Gabe Watkin and her two sons Cameron (left) and Daniel. Genie Hawk

She started out as the team manager for under 15's, then under 17's, assistant first aid, club room coordinator and even vice president among many other roles.

Her tireless dedication to the club saw her sacrifice only one game a year for her annual trip to the Gympie Muster.

"Even when I went away I would be there checking my phone for updates," she said.

"Up until the end of last year I would be too busy helping out to actually get to watch some of the games," she said.

Gabe said since she's had to lighten her duties, it was bitter-sweet she could now enjoy the games at a designated table reserved for her in the centre of the action.

Although Gabe's movement had deteriorated she insisted to help at the club wherever she could.

"While my hands haven't worked the brain still does," she said.

 

Gabe Watkin receiving her life membership to the Yeppoon Swans from close friend Rachel Boyd.
Gabe Watkin receiving her life membership to the Yeppoon Swans from close friend Rachel Boyd. Shayla Bulloch

Gabe has recently joined the MND research facility in Brisbane for muscle biopsy tests to help specialists find a cure.

She has agreed to be a part of the facility while she was physically able and determined to utilise her situation to help others.

"We need everybody to get on board and help fight this disease even if that means me being effected by it to make people more aware of it," she said.

Long-time friend, Lousie Van Der Vorst, could hardly keep her emotions subsided reflecting on Gabe's heart wrenching situation.

 

Louise Van Der Vorst (right) has been fundraising continually for Gabe Watkin (left) since she was diagnose.
Louise Van Der Vorst (right) has been fundraising continually for Gabe Watkin (left) since she was diagnose. Shayla Bulloch

"I just wonder how somebody can be dealt so much," Louise said.

In a relentless effort to support Gabe and her family, Louise has pioneered the fundraising and awareness events.

Her goal is to fund enough money for Colin to take a year off work and spend precious time with his wife.

The generosity from friends, family and total strangers has overwhelmed Gabe who says if it wasn't for her hours at the footy club this support wouldn't be as strong.

"I'm a firm believer that everyone needs to volunteer in their community at some stage in their life," she said.

"That's when the good stuff comes back to you and the community support I'm getting is because of the activities I have always been involved in.

"It's things like this that make you realise how valuable living in a small town is."

Louise encouraged anyone who wants to support Gabe to donate to her Go Fund Me account or sponsor prizes in a sold out golf day.

"Along with Gabe's sisters and the community I will keep raising awareness and do whatever we can to push for a cure," she said.

Gabe's positivity was relentless saying although her life had changed, she was taking on every hurdle thrown at her.

"I certainly have not given up and a cure for this could be just around the corner," she said.

WHAT IS MND?

  • Terminal neurological illness
  • Unfortunately there is no cure
  • Average life expectancy is 2-5 years
  • Two people die every day from MND in Australia

HOW TO HELP GABE'S MND FIGHT

Contact Louise on 0418 385 204

For information and support please contact the MND Association in your state or territory on 1800 777 175 or visit the MND Australia website: www.mndaustralia.org



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