Archie Schiller - Australia Cricket Co-Captain for the 2018 Boxing Day Test and leg-spinner
When Archie was three weeks old, he was diagnosed with congenital heart disease. The actual diagnosis was aortic valve stenosis where the aortic valve narrows and therefore there is reduced or blockage of blood flow from the heart to the main arteries., which meant we were in and out of the hospital during the first few months of his life and surgery was an inevitability.
We are very open about it. We had tried for 2 and a half years to be able to have a child. And when you finally find out that you are pregnant, and are carrying full-term, you are on top of the world.
But then to find out that your son is critically ill, you just kind of stop on your tracks a little bit. The thought of “it has taken us so long and now our son is sick”, constantly entered our minds. But we have no choice but to be positive. It changed our world. When you live in a small community, everyone has an opinion about something. So, we had to reassure everyone that it is not a contagious disease. It is just bad luck. When we look back now, we are better people for it. We have a much better understanding of any sort of illness now. Before we were so oblivious to ill adults and children, but this has definitely opened our eyes.
We are extremely fortunate to have an unbelievably resilient child. He does not know any different. I have always been affiliated with the medical industry and my husband, Damian, grew up on a farm. So, we had a tough upbringing. We also have a very strong church upbringing as well, so we understand and accept that we have to trust what comes our way, we have to go with it as you cannot change the uncontrollable. We just had to be tough for our children and we hope we have instilled this in Archie and his brother Harry. It gets tough sometimes though. For example, a common cold is not just a cold for Archie. A cold will land him in the hospital. Other children will come home from school and play, but Archie comes home and has to rest. He tires very easily. He has to miss a lot of school and special occasions because either he is in the hospital or we have medical appointments or needs to rest. For a 7-year old who cannot come home and tuck into some backyard sports is unfortunate.
Archie has a younger brother, Harry, who is 4 years old. We lost a couple of children in between Archie and Harry due to miscarriages. We re-affirm with Archie that he is very lucky to have a brother to play football and cricket with. Poor old Harry does not get a choice. It is either cricket or football. People ask Archie about the Boxing Day Test, and Harry replies with “Well, my brother was captain.” If Harry is ever bothering Archie – we remind Archie that Harry has been born into this world where he does not have a choice. Since we have been spending so much time in hospital, unfortunately for Harry, he has to spend a lot of time in the hospital too. We have two beautiful boys and “Hurricane Harry” as we call him, understands that sometimes the needs of Archie have to come first so that he can have a brother at home with him.
Damian was always passionate about cricket and growing up, I also started to love the sport. Being born in an Australian summer, from birth Archie would come along to watch his dad’s matches when he was well enough and be around cricket lads. Sport is a big part of the country lifestyle. As Archie got older, Damian has continuously encouraged Archie to keep playing and at the same time, we kept an eye to ensure it was not too strenuous on his heart. The sport of cricket and Australian Rules football ignited a passion in him.
Towards the end of 2018, Archie was due to have another heart surgery. He was struggling and had to miss a lot of school. Friendships were hard to come by. He just could not keep up with his friends. It was heartbreaking to see your child come home, begging to have surgery because that will fix his heart. We had to tell a 5-year old that surgery will not bring his heart to complete function, but the doctors do it to save his life.
My dear friend’s sister was involved with Make-A-Wish Australia and she suggested the idea of nominating Archie. We were not entirely certain because we thought Make-A-Wish was for the terminally ill. There are so many children who were worse off than Archie. Archie can walk and talk. Even though there are bad days, at least we can still cuddle him at night. A lot of the parents cannot cuddle their children. To our surprise, within a month of nomination, Archie’s wish had been approved. We found out later that when a child is nominated, the wish has to go through all the specialists, surgeons and doctors before approval. We were informed that he was eligible a long time ago. We felt blessed that we had the support of the hospital and the surgeons. The Make-A-Wish team are absolutely incredible. Initially, Archie did not really know what he wanted. He is a very intelligent boy and he discussed with us the idea of being God for one day. We disregarded his idea, but the Make-A-Wish girls did not say “no”, but instead, they thought of how they could try and make this wish happen. It was coming towards the end of the AFL season and while practising, Archie would do every action as if it was cricket related. So, he would shadow bowl or practice a batting action. We did not try to impose anything, however, asked if he wanted to do something with the sport of cricket. It was a time where Steve Smith was making it big and Archie goes, “I think I would like to be Steve Smith for one day.”
Obviously, Steve Smith took an extended leave for reasons that are very well known. Make-A-Wish asked if would like to be Australian cricket captain for a day. We thought it would involve the Adelaide Test being our state’s home ground help with the toss of the coin, be part of the national anthem and meet a few players. But during a brainstorming exercise with Make-A-Wish and Cricket Australia decided that Archie will be the captain of Australia, on the most important day in our cricketing calendar. We were notified and we were very excited as the MCG was on our bucket list. We were a little bit cautious because of Harry, but they made it into a family affair, and we all got to be involved. They asked Archie to be their Christmas ambassador at that time and Archie’s energy and enthusiasm naturally shot up. He was almost a different child. That is when we got a call from the Australian men’s cricket coach, Justin Langer. Honestly, it was like talking to your mate. Justin was amazing and very humble. We got to meet Steve Waugh. I grew up in the era with the likes of Steve Waugh,Shane Warne and Glen McGrath. Steve was playing with Harry at the Adelaide Oval and the security guard goes, “did you ever think that your son will be playing with Steve Waugh.” I said to him that I never thought I would see Steve Waugh in person let alone Harry playing with him. We are very grateful to Cricket Australia and Asics. Archie even has his own gear now that he wears almost everyday
During a net session before the test match, the Indian media just could not get enough of him. I thought Australians were crazy about cricket, but Indians are on another level. The next few days we had a lot of media commitments and it was absolutely wonderful because we got to promote Make A Wish at that time as well. Both Cricket Australia and Make A Wish advised of the amazing response with all of Australia getting behind Archie. Yes, there are always a couple of keyboard warriors that make comments, but overall it was such a positive reception. Make A wish have been beyond incredible. From flights to accommodation and media handling, they have not only changed our son’s life but also our lives. And we will do our best to help others and change their lives through Make A Wish.
Even though Archie loves the Australian Cricket team, he is a very big fan of Virat Kohli and Jasprit Bumrah. I had my grandpa’s funeral a few weeks ago and one of his friends, who was present, currently works as a photographer for the Australian cricket team and is not long retired. He was saying that he has never seen Virat Kohli get down and talk to children like he spoke to Archie. It was an extremely humbling and special moment. Kohli gave me a kiss and a cuddle and so I’ve stated never to wash my face again. The way both the Australian and Indian cricketers integrated Archie was something else. They took their time with Archie and us as well. They were calm and understanding with him.
Following this, Damian and I have started Archie’s Instagram page. We are so blessed that people are interested in his life and our story. It is so special and means a lot to us. Coming into the summer now, he's not far off from starting his own cricket season. He has been out every night while it has been sunny, practising his bowling and batting for his club - the Nuriootpa Tigers in the Barossa Valley. It has been a real community effort to not just get Archie to this stage, but us as a family. It is great to see him so happy and healthy. However, we will always be on edge.
Even though Archie has gone through so much at such a young age, he stays very positive. And if he has one message, it is to get behind the Australian cricket team no matter what decisions they make. We are humans and we make mistakes. But they are all individuals, fathers, brothers, sons, uncles and we are forever grateful for their kindness and hospitality. I also want people to smile more because you never know the difference your smile may make to someone else.