ELITE athletes might look like they're living the dream, but you never know what's going on behind the scenes.
On Wednesday evening, Big Bash League Sydney Sixers icons and NSW contracted cricket players, Ben Manenti, Nick Bertus and Mickey Edwards attended a Sportsman dinner at Club Lithgow as part of the NSW Baggy Blues Tour.
NSW Rookie contract Ryan Hadley and Australia national U19 player Lachie Hearne were also on tour.
The players gathered with members of the Lithgow District Cricket Association (LDCA) to promote mental health and sport in partnership with the Rural Adversity Mental Health Program (RAMHP).
Versatile wicketkeeper and batsman Nick Bertus spoke openly on his battles with mental health after losing his parents within the space of two-and-a-half years.
"My dad was a big part of me playing cricket, I remember thinking 'why would I even bother playing anymore' [after losing him], it was hard," he said.
"I was a conversation away from not playing cricket, I hated [playing] it as a young guy, I couldn't properly deal with it, but my mum really helped me get back into it," he said.
Bertus tragically lost his mum last year in a car crash while playing shield cricket for NSW forcing to him to again reconsider his priorities.
"It made me rethink why I was playing, the motivation to play was hard," he said.
He said being part of the Baggy Blues Tour allowed him to share his story and talk mental health over a few days.
"It's great to talk about mental health especially with teammates, they helped me through a lot. It was tough but my friends got me through it," he said.
Bertus said everyone in the world has something in their life that they struggle with.
"There's always something behind the scenes. For me on the outside it looks like the perfect life, I'm good at cricket, good at footy, but on the inside there's a lot going on.
"But it hit me that there's people out there worse than me or dealing with the same thing. The theme of these few days [on tour] is that it's important to think that when things aren't going right or going your way there actually is others going through same thing," he said.
NSW Baggy Blues ambassadors and retired cricketers Steve Rixon, Rick McCosker, Len Pascoe, Geoff Lawson, John Dyson, Phil Emery, Gavin Robinson, Simon Cook, Phil Marks, physiotherapist Pat Farhart and Coach Warren Smith were also in attendance.
Robinson spoke with the ambassadors about their commitments and making a life out of cricket.
"It doesn't matter where you're from, you can make something of yourself," he said.
"It's the framework of why we're here, to create a better community and a better place.
"We all have our moments, anyone can find the negative, so find the positive."
He said country people were some of the strongest people he's come across.
"When stuff gets heavy out here, they keep having a go."
Australian fast bowler Len Pascoe said it was great to come on tour in regional NSW.
"It rekindles our passion for the game and we get to meet so many great people," he said.
Australian cricketer and Baggy Blues Tour director Phil Marks thanked those who attended the event and encouraged people to start conversations around mental health.
"Don't hide from it," he said.
"If this event saves one more life, it's been worth it."
As part of the tour, the BBL players held a junior coaching clinic at Tony Luchetti Sportsground on Thursday afternoon followed by a T20 match with LDCA players.
Sixers bowlers Ben Manenti and Mickey Edwards said they loved coming on tour, meeting new people and sharing cricket knowledge.
"We've done a few trips around regional NSW, it's awesome, we get treated so well and it's so good to give back," Manenti said.
"I like to pretend I'm a bit of a country boy so I like to feel like I fit in, I love them [tours] they're really good," he said.
Edwards said it was always good to be able to help kids and pass on cricket knowledge.
"It's always good to help those away from where we live and help shape future generations and pass cricket knowledge on to people who will listen," he said.
"I love getting to meet people in rural NSW, it's a pleasure to be on these trips."
The players encouraged people to get involved in sport and enjoy it.
"Any sport is good for your mental health, it doesn't just have to be cricket, anything at all to get outside and spend time with friends, if you are playing cricket enjoy it, have fun, it's better than doing anything else on your Saturday mornings," Manenti said.
"Thanks for having us Lithgow."
RAMHP coordinator for Lithgow Sonia Cox received a Mayor's special Recognition award at the Sportsman dinner for her work in the community and organising the NSW Baggy Blues Tour to come to Lithgow.
Lithgow mayor and Cr Ray Thompson said Sonia had been a reassuring presence in drought, bushfires and now COVID-19.
"On behalf of the community I'm presenting Sonia with this award for a job very well done," he said.
LDCA secretary Mark Wren was also recognised for not only helping organise the tour, but for his ongoing support of cricket in the community.
LDCA president Danny Whitty presented Wren with life membership.
"I'm lost for words, I'm so proud to be a member and very appreciative," Wren said.