Pilbara doctor and founder of the not-for-profit Fair Game, John van Bockxmeer is using recycled sporting equipment as a means to end health inequality.

John’s journey began at UWA when he enrolled in Australia’s longest degree; a combined Bachelor of Medicine/Surgery and Bachelor of Art. His studies took him around the world, completing electives and volunteering work in a number of developing countries, including Tajikstan, Zambia and Central Asia.

It was on these travels that John realised he had an insatiable appetite to help others. During a placement in Central Asia, John contracted typhoid. While this would deter many from the world of medicine, he describes the experience as a firsthand perspective of his patients’ suffering. In fact, he was back volunteering six months later – this time in Timor Leste, where he treated patients in the midst of a dengue fever outbreak.

John Van Bockxmeer

John van Bockxmeer, Doctor of Medicine Graduate

Small town. Big idea.

While John’s travels gave him insight into the health challenges faced by developing countries, it was a sight in the small WA town of South Hedland that ignited his desire to create Fair Game.

While treating an obese young man, I looked out the window and saw a young boy kicking rubbish around a dusty oval. It was in this moment that I realised what health inequality was. The unfair yet preventable difference between these two people motivated me to start Fair Game.

Giving more Australians a sporting chance

Every year, it’s estimated 56 million deaths are caused by diseases associated with a sedentary lifestyle. Many of these conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and colon cancer are easily preventable with regular physical activity. Unfortunately, not all Australians have access to the knowledge or facilities needed to make healthy choices – John and the volunteers at Fair Game are working to put an end to this inequality.

Fair Game is a not-for-profit that collects and donates recycled sporting equipment to remote and disadvantaged communities, giving them the chance to gain the physical, mental and social benefits that come from playing sport. John founded Fair Game by collecting donations of recycled sporting equipment in Perth. When the donations began mounting up, John enlisted four friends to join him on a remote road trip to deliver the equipment to WA communities in need.

The most meaningful moments and brightest ideas don’t come from ‘playing it safe’. Be a thermostat, not a thermometer; set the temperature of your room.

Equipped to succeed

Six years after this humble beginning, Fair Game has donated more than 15,000 items of equipment, gained more than 180 volunteers and inspired more than 6000 Indigenous Australians and refugees to improve their health. Along with donating equipment, Fair Game is now running community-based fitness, health and education programs.

In honour of Fair Game’s overwhelming contribution to the community, John was named the 2014 Young Western Australian of the Year and was recognised as one of WA’s 40 under 40, winning the Inspiring Possibilities award.

Not one to rest on his laurels, John continues to run Fair Game and work full-time as an Emergency and Primary Care Doctor servicing the remote Kimberley and Pilbara regions. He also teaches community fitness classes and is an active voice for numerous volunteer organisations, including Volunteering WA and FuturePerth.

Despite his busy schedule, John insists he has plenty more to do. “I’m aiming to put myself out of a job. I’m planning to conduct research to enhance rural emergency medicine and improve outcomes for patients with severe sepsis in Port Hedland. I want to achieve a world where everyone gets a fair go at being healthy.”

While organisations like Fair Game are inspiring and helping thousands of Australians, there is still a long way to go on the road to health equality. When asked what encourages him to persevere, John has the following advice:

Surround yourself with likeminded people. Draw positivity from those who inspire you to achieve and bring out your best qualities. I’ve been working for seven years now but I still maintain a close relationship with people at UWA. I believe that energy and time is best spent engaging with those who build your motivation.

Fair Game Australia is powered by human energy and passion. If you’re interested in making a donation or joining the team of passionate volunteers, visit fairgame.org.au.

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