By Cam Lucadou-Wells
Sprinting superstar Usain Bolt tells Apex Gang to stay on the straight and narrow…
Apex Gang members got an inspiring pep talk from world champion sprinter Usain Bolt who urged them to stick to a positive path in life.
Meeting ahead of the Nitro race series at Albert Park on 9 February, Bolt was up-beat and gave the 11 young men a lot of time, according to the meeting’s facilitator Nelly Yoa.
Bolt’s message was to “surround themselves with a good group of guys”, Mr Yoa of Dandenong said.
“If you have a passion, go for it – regardless of whether there are negative influences of family and friends,” Mr Yoa said.
Mr Yoa, who has been mentoring the notorious youths over the past year, said he believed the youths were “star struck” by the rare privilege.
He hoped some of Bolt’s optimism would rub off on the youngsters, whose gang’s members are accused of central Melbourne riots and a spate of home invasions and car-jackings.
“I believe they’re taking that on board.
“They enjoyed it and were inspired by meeting with them.”
Personally, Mr Yoa has been uplifted by his own strong friendship with Bolt, who catches up while on his frequent visits to Australia.
Bolt gave encouragement while Mr Yoa was recovering from an horrific machete attack at a Sudanese beauty pageant in 2011.
Mr Yoa nearly bled to death. Then he faced the prospect of not only having his promising soccer career ruined but perhaps not walking again.
Since then, Mr Yoa has thrown himself into a community leadership role as well as landing a spot with A-League side Melbourne City’s youth squad.
Most recently, he’s tried out with AFL side Collingwood as a potential category-B rookie – following in the footsteps of former American basketballer Mason Cox.
Mr Yoa has spent several weeks learning from scratch the sports’ unique skills such as handballing. He concedes it has been a challenge.
“That’s the message we’re trying to implement to these kids – not to give up.
“They see from my personal experience that I’ll soldier on.”
He often meets with up to 30 young men in Melbourne’s south-east and west by phone or face-to-face for lunch or coffee.
“The major thing is they’re looking for work and education, even if they’re unfortunately not getting a lot of support from parents and family friends.
“The main concern is they’re trying to build initiative to work, and when it doesn’t happen, they fall back.
“They haven’t got that full motivation to pick themselves up. They find it easy to give up.”
Mr Yoa said he’s pleased that major reports of trouble among the youths seem to have dissipated.
He said that he had no one to look to while he was growing up – until recently.
“I’m using that with these kids. I’m growing up with no major support but they’ve got me to look up to and other major athletes to look up to.
“I believe it’s catching on to them and that they can transform individually. Obviously they’re not going to transcend things overnight.
“Ultimately, it’s up to them.”