Best-selling author, illustrator and motivational speaker, Trevor Romain was recently back home in South Africa (from Austin, Texas, where he is based). Here the Random Kak creator pays tribute to a rugby ‘God’ from school who changed his school life and put a stop to ruthless school bullies…
Last week I drove past the scene of the crime.
I was in South Africa, briefly, to visit my family in Johannesburg and I happened to drive past the bus stop where it all took place.
I remember it so perfectly clearly.
I was a schoolboy attending King Edward the 7th High School.
On the day in question, as was the norm, I was probably day-dreaming about the cute girl who lived in my neighborhood and staring out of the classroom window, just before the home-time bell rang.
I had no time for that fantasy to linger after the bell rang, though, because I had to get out of the classroom and run like crazy to get to the bus stop before the Wrecking Crew got to me.
Yeah. The Wrecking Crew. A couple of boys at my school who made my life a living hell.
They often caught me between the tuck shop and the school gate on the Louis Botha end of the school.
They sometimes even got me when I took a loop around the pool and tried to outrun them to the bus stop from the other side.
They delighted in choking me with my tie. Pushing me off the school bus as it started pulling away from the stop. Bumping into me when they walked by. Knocking my lunch out of my hand as often as possible and even slapping me when they ran past.
One time when I was leaning against the bus shelter one of them kicked my feet out from under me and I fell into the gutter and messed up my knee. I landed up tearing the cartilage, which had to be surgically repaired a few years later.
They made my school life a misery until a small gesture actually altered the trajectory of my unhappiness.
You see I was an avid photographer and, due to my dad losing his job and lack of funds, I took pictures with a borrowed camera (and because I didn’t have a darkroom) I developed my pictures in my parent’s kitchen after everyone went to bed.
I really enjoyed taking pictures especially of the school’s First Rugby Team in action. It was my creative outlet. It was something that took my mind away from the guys who made my afternoon bus trip a daily debacle.
My alma mater had a fantastic rugby team that year. One of the star players was a chap by the name of Shane Carty. Shane was a big, strong guy and a brilliant rugby player. (He played for the South African Schools rugby team that year. They were the top fifteen schoolboy rugby players in the entire country.)
One Monday morning after a fantastic win against Durban Boys High, I went to school clutching a really nice photograph I had taken of Shane leaping up for the ball.
I wanted to give him the picture but I was afraid to approach him.
Shane was one of the most revered and worshiped guys at the school. I mean he was a kind of God at KES. A hero of sorts. Even the teachers fell over themselves to say hi to him and shake his hand. I was a very small guy and four grades lower than him.
I was so little he may not even have seen me because I was about level with his kneecaps. (As I’ve said before, I was so small I had to stand on a chair just to reach puberty.)
I waited all day for the right moment then, at break, outside the tuck shop, I saw him and gave him the picture. I was so nervous I just about shook right out of my ‘Bata Toughees’ shoes.
I saw some of the kids in my class with their jaws gaping in surprise. They were gob-smacked that I had the gall and audacity to speak to someone of Shane’s stature in the school.
I was really nervous as I handed him the picture and then beat a hasty retreat. In two strides, with his very long legs, he caught up to me and said, “You took this?”
“That’s great. Thanks man,” he said patting me on the back with a giant paw-like hand. “What’s your name?”
I told him my name and got away as quickly as possible.
I saw him every now and then and he always nodded hi to me when we passed in the school halls.
So, one afternoon after rugby practice the Wrecking Crew accosted me once more and grabbed my tie pulling me around like a dog on a leash, almost strangling me in the process.
They had a great time kicking and barking at me and pretending I was a dog, while other kids at the bus stop laughed hysterically.
Those kids often embarrassed me. Especially on the bus.
As they were shaming me that day, Shane Carty, and some of the first team rugby players rounded the corner and from a distance saw the melee.
The boys let me go and started horsing around with each other pretending nothing had happened.
Shane continued walking towards us and greeted me as he passed. “Howzit Trevor,” he said.
The boys who had been slapping me around stopped in their tracks. They couldn’t believe that THE Shane Carty was greeting little pissant Romain.
Without making a big fuss he stopped right next to the guy who had grabbed my tie. He looked down at him and said, “Don’t ever let me #$#@#$ catch you doing that again. Okay?”
That’s all he said and walked on.
Those guys never messed with me again. EVER! In fact nobody at school ever bullied me after that. I actually started enjoying school for goodness sake.
Years back I found Shane Carty’s e-mail address, on the Internet, and wrote him a note and personally thanked him for making such a huge difference in my life. (I can honestly say I didn’t want to be alive sometimes because those guys shamed me so much in front of the other guys.)
Shane’s simple gesture actually changed my school experience and I will never forget his kindness.
More than 35 years later, when he received my e-mail, he had absolutely no recollection of what he had done and what an impact it had.
He told me in a note that he put his head down and cried when he got my e-mail.
Sometimes the smallest acts of kindness can actually make the biggest difference to the receiver of said kindness…without the giver even knowing it.
What Shane didn’t know is that I have shared this story with well over 500,000 kids during my ‘With You All The Way’ world tour of the planet. And I will continue to do so on future tours.
In essence, Shane Carty’s small act of kindness has inspired thousands upon thousands of kids and taught them how they can actually change someone else’s life.
Talk about the power of empathy!
I sincerely thank you again, Shane Carty, for doing the right thing!
May you rest in peace big brother.
(Shane died of cancer not too long ago and even though he is physically gone, he is still working hard, through this story, to make a difference in the world. My love and continued condolences to Shane’s daughter Mic Weeks, his wife Odette and the whole family. 🙏)
TREVOR ROMAIN is a best-selling author, illustrator and motivational speaker who was born in Johannesburg and now lives in Austin, Texas. He also hosts a popular television series that has been featured on a number of PBS stations. His books have sold more than a million copies worldwide and have been published in 20 different languages. For more than 20 years, Trevor has travelled to schools, hospitals, summer camps, and military bases worldwide, delivering stand-up comedy with inspirational self-help messages to hundreds of thousands of school-age children. He is the immediate past president of the American Childhood Cancer Organization and is well known for his work with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the UN, UNICEF, USO and the Trevor Romain Foundation. President and co-founder of the Trevor Romain Company and co-owner of Tuk-Tuk Media. Read more about Trevor and his work at www.trevorromain.com