Baggaley’s fall from grace

Nathan Baggaley paddling for Australia.
Nathan Baggaley paddling for Australia.
How did it come to this?

A young man with the world at his feet.

A Byron Bay home-town hero. Triple world kayak champion and dual Olympic silver medallist. A champion surf ski competitor. An elite athlete travelling the world.

He lived a life that most of us can only dream of.

Now, Nathan Baggaley, 33, is a convicted drug manufacturer and dealer, sentenced to nine years in prison and facing a future as far removed from his previous life as can be possible.

After having already been in jail for 18 months and with a non-parole period of five years, he will be due for release in November 2012.

Nathan’s younger brother Dru, 27, who the court heard was the main player in the ecstasy-making operation, also faces a similar plight, sentenced to 12 years which, with a non-parole period of eight years, will see him eligible for release in November 2015.

Like past Byron Bay sports champions, Nathan’s dreams and ambitions were embraced and hugely supported by the people of the town on his way to the top.

Now no doubt those same people, while hugely sympathetic to the impact on his parents and wider family, would feel more than a little betrayed.

I certainly believed back in the mid-1990s that he would become an Olympic champion, which is why I wanted his photograph to grace the front page of our first tabloid edition in 1995.

We were going big and so I believed was Nathan.

The headline on page one of that edition next to his photograph taken at Brunswick Heads where he trained on the river read, ‘Nathan sets sights on Olympic GOLD’.

He thought he had an outside chance of making the Australian team for the   1996 Atlanta Olympics, but as history shows, he didn’t.

It was a different story four years later when he was picked to compete at the Sydney Olympics.

He didn’t get that gold medal, but he did make the semis in the K1 500m, doing himself, his family and his town proud.

Nathan’s star was on the rise and in 2001 he was named one of Cleo magazine’s 50 most eligible bachelors.

In following years he won the K1 500m world title three times and was favourite to win the gold in the event at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

He didn’t quite make it, pipped on the line in the final and he had to settle for silver.

An hour later with Clint Robinson he won another silver medal in the K2 500m.

It was a big year for Nathan as he was also named Australian Institute of Sport Athlete of the Year and he, along with Petria Thomas, were given a massive welcome home parade at Mullumbimby.

And he also was guest of honour at that year’s New Year’s Eve parade at Byron Bay.

Feted everywhere, for Nathan, it seemed, life couldn’t get any better.

However, things began to turn sour a short time later when he tested positive to banned steroids.

For those who knew him – including me – it was a major shock.

His defence, that he had inadvertently taken a drink belonging to a family member recovering from an injury that contained two different steroids, was greeted with a degree of scepticism.

In 2005 he was given a two-year ban from competition by the International Canoe Federation, overturning an earlier 15-month ban imposed by Australian Canoeing and Surf Life Saving Australia.

From there, the slide got even worse, with Nathan arrested and charged on the Gold Coast in February 2007 after 762 ecstasy tablets were found in a car in which he was travelling.

While that was still being dealt with by the Queensland courts, Nathan and his brother Dru were arrested and charged in November 2007 in relation to the manufacture and supply of thousands of ecstasy pills.

All of which led to guilty pleas from both brothers and their sentencing in the Lismore District Court last Friday by Judge James Black, who said the brothers’ parents must not blame themselves.

Again, how did it come to this?

Defence lawyer John Weller explained that Nathan’s slide into drug dealing stemmed from his 2005 suspension from kayaking.

“From becoming a world champion, becoming an award winner, he’d done nothing else,” Mr Weller said.

“Suddenly his world was gone and he didn’t address the issues.”

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