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Humans of the West – Leigh Ritchie

Leigh Ritchie, Bulldog through and through, has a considerable personal battle on his hands.

We’re each linked to the Western Bulldogs in our own unique and special way.  Humans of the West explores our people’s connections to the red, white and blue.  Here is the story of Leigh Ritchie…

Leigh Ritchie is chirpy as he takes a seat at Whitten Oval's Barkers Café.  And well he might be.  He's just been presented with a player-signed Western Bulldogs jumper and had a chat with coach Luke Beveridge.

A Bulldog through and through since birth (thanks to his uncle David), Leigh has ridden along with the ups and downs the Dogs have experienced in his nearly 40 years.

The highs — such as the 2016 premiership win — have been unforgettable, and the lows have been tough.

This year has been difficult for the Dogs so far, with injuries and inconsistency leaving the side not as high on the ladder as hoped, and a challenge lies ahead for Bevo and the boys.

A challenge also lies ahead for Leigh.  Six weeks ago, on the eve of his third wedding anniversary, he visited his doctor.  He had had COVID in January and, more recently, a seizure.  Having had epilepsy as a child, Leigh expected to be diagnosed with a reoccurrence of the condition.

Instead, he received news that turned his world upside down.  A tumour had been found on his brain, and then another.  Further tests revealed these cancers to be secondary.  There was cancer elsewhere in Leigh, including in his lungs.

In virtually the blink of an eye, Leigh had to digest the reality that he had Stage 4 melanoma.

As his various treatments ramp up, Leigh is only too happy to take the opportunity to talk about his lifelong love of the Western Bulldogs.

"There are baby photos of me surrounded by Collingwood and Hawthorn jumpers", he said, "but it was my Uncle David who convinced me to adopt the Bulldogs.”

Leigh has great memories of standing on the terraces under the Whitten Oval scoreboard as a kid and a teenager.  In particular he has strong memories of seeing a young player running around in the number 29 and kicking goals in 1990 and thinking, ‘this bloke can play a bit’.

That number 29 later became number 3 and one of the all-time Bulldog greats.  It was, of course, Chris Grant.

Other stars such as Doug Hawkins and Rohan Smith also loom large in Leigh's memory.  And he clearly recalls the Bulldogs' last ever senior match at Whitten Oval in 1997, a quarter of a century ago.

Rain was falling, and 14-year-old Leigh remembers spotting a sign in the distance that read ‘DRY AREA’.  He made the move to the terraces surrounding the sign, only to find that area was just as wet as all the others!

Now well on the way to completing a sports management degree at Victoria University, Leigh loves to analyse the play and the stats in all Bulldogs games.

On top of continuing his studies and following the Bulldogs very closely, Leigh is keen to share his experiences as he undertakes a journey of uncertainty from here.

"I want to be very open about my experience because I think it's really important for men to talk more about their health,” he said.

As the Western Bulldogs take on the challenges remaining in the 2022 AFL season, the challenges Leigh Ritchie and his wife Maggie are about to face remind us that sometimes it's good to pause and get a bit of perspective on footy and life.

"Maggie has been experiencing all forms of emotions as you can expect, but she is doing better than when we first found out,” says Leigh.

Maggie's own experience serves as a reminder that illness has an impact not just on the patient, but the patient's family and friends, too.

For Maggie, her marriage to Leigh three years ago represented a moment of new hope. She had come from a broken home and with Leigh she felt as though she had finally found a path to her 'happy ever after', complete with white picket fence and three kids.

Now, Maggie feels as though that could be taken away at any moment.

Dogs' fans out there will be barracking hard for Sons of the West to rediscover their magic on the field over the coming months.  And they'll be barracking at least as hard for one particular Son of the West, Leigh, as he embarks on his recovery journey.

Match preview v Collingwood

The Western Bulldogs will be looking to return to the winners list when they go up against Collingwood at Marvel Stadium in the Robert Rose Cup on Friday night.
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