Michael Walker, ‘The Cuz’, the smart jockey who wears his heart on his sleeve has a story he wants to share, it’s about being there for your friends when they need you.
Michael Walker still misses his childhood friend Cory. You don’t need to know his last name. Walker knows it as a “mix”, but much more than that.
You know Walker, the jockey, “The Cuz”. You don’t know Cory. But Walker thinks of him every day, blaming himself for missing him – that’s tough because he wants us to know Cory and who he was. And much more than just a name – a reason.
You may have seen Walker and his partner Lauren launch The Cuz and Miss Cuz clothing line this month.
This is typical Walker, one might think, but there is a much deeper message behind putting The Cuz and Miss Cuz on. The Cuz (thecuzofficial.com). And it’s all Cory’s.
“When Cory died, his father and I had to dress him. In Maori culture, we have open coffins so we had days to pay our respects. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, harder than driving, ”said Walker.
Cory had taken his own life. Walker admits he tried the same thing.
He has a tattoo on his hands – next to those on his forearm – with the names and dates of birth of his firstborn children, Kase and Layla, to remind him how close he has come. That was April 19, 2014.
“I was weak and selfish, how could I abandon my two children,” he says today.
But it’s still Cory’s memory that drives him today and creates more awareness of mental health issues. The Cuz and Miss Cuz clothing range is a vehicle to share.
Cory was “a brother from another mother” to Walker.
“Cory was the handsome boy, we all wanted to be like him, he was the IT guy, always the best in sport, has all the ladies, we were all kind of jealous of him, we all wanted to be like him, he was him Said Walker.
Walker and Cory grew up as children in Waitara, a close-knit group of friends who consider each other to be brothers. Children in a small Kiwi town, a family of their own.
“We have always stood behind us, we have always kept in touch, always.”
Until they didn’t.
“Then he (Cory) moved to Perth and he was fine, then he called me when he was fighting, he called me out of the blue,” Walker said.
“I kept contacting him, maybe not as often as I should have. He called me crying so I sent him money that day to book a plane ticket. I told him to visit me. “
“Apparently he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at school and given medication, but he hasn’t told anyone, including us brothers,” said Walker.
Apparently only Cory’s family knew.
It got more than chaotic for Cory, as well as for Walker, who has long battled his own demons of addiction to alcohol, drugs and gambling while trying to be one of Australia’s most successful jockeys, the young man who set all New Zealand riding records has broken.
You can come up with life-threatening headlines like “Pig Shooting” and “Cut My Leg” headlines to know that Walker is all of this always raw and frank, but this is his first time telling the Cory Weko story. And for a determined and heartfelt reason.
“I was there, I struggled with it myself,” says Walker.
“It made me lose my best friend,” he says of the mental health struggles.
The clothing of Cuz and Miss Cuz is the vision – “The representation of their respective clothing lines is to build a community spirit among those they represent and to provide a pillar of strength of support to those facing a silent struggle.
“The Cuz and Mrs. Cuz are a his and hers clothing line that people can support and wear, knowing that they are part of a community of individuals who have their backs.”
Walker remembers how close Cory was to his family and calling Michael’s grandmother “Nan” when he saw her.
Two of the family’s close friends ran a milk bar in Waitara, New Zealand, which was always a first stop for Walker returning home from Australia.
When they moved to Melbourne, Cory was living in St. Kilda. Just.
“He called me, I hadn’t seen him. I never thought I’d see him again, “said Walker.
“He lived with me, then he went away at night, I still have his clothes today.
“Maybe we weren’t in contact as we should have been, I don’t know and it worries me, we had a chat group, we all celebrated anniversaries, I still gave him money, he drove from Sydney to Melbourne to Perth, but I knew he was having trouble. “
“Cory always did his own thing, if you’ve heard from him, you’ve heard from him. If I went to a Melbourne Cup he would text me and tell me that he loves me, is proud of me and is grateful that he knows we are brothers. “
“It’s just something you live with either directly or indirectly. Mental health is a real problem and hopefully what I’m doing can create a little more awareness of it, ”said Walker.
Walker cites numbers like 700,000 people who die from mental health problems each year, 40 per second. His new website www.thecuzofficial.com explains more. And allows you to buy the equipment.
“People can support each other, that’s the idea and also the understanding of the message,” says Walker.
“This is about looking for help, that is the main thing, you are no less a person to be reached and I am very lucky that I went this way and why I am still here today.
“Life is so much bigger the more I think about it,” says Walker as he transforms into a smart media analyst on racing.com as his body heals from recent injuries.
“If we can help a person, that’s what it’s about.
“A buddy saved me from ending everything, that gives me strength, something that a lot of people don’t talk about.
“I lived in St. Kilda, I thought about it, I woke up sweating, I felt like I just got out of a pool and couldn’t control my mind, I called my old boss (Alan Sharrock) crying, I thought, “My career sucks, I missed my children, I just wanted to go to sleep, it was all too painful.”
But no more than missing his “brother” Cory Weko.
If there is a goal other than getting back to riding for Michael Walker, it will appear in the next issue of SAS Australia. And if he wasn’t a star!
“I almost lost a leg, I have compartment syndrome, but I’m more determined than ever to prove that I’m back and what a way to do it,” he said.
“Get me a place on this show. I would love it.”
Personal Disclosure: In a previous life as a jockey manager (then Damien Oliver and Chris Munce) I wrote a letter to Allan Sharrock asking if Michael was coming to Australia and looking after him.
He made the move and lived with me. I thought he was a millipede at first, he was a perpetual buyer of white runners, but it’s impossible not to love the young guy, the most gifted all-round talent I’ve ever worked with, I was a father figure to him, he is a stepbrother of my eldest daughter Gabi.
I wonder if I did enough to protect him in those early days, when the pokies and drugs became hard-to-ignore lures before the brilliant success.
Just as he reveals his “mistakes” about Cory.
Can I just say that I am proud that Michael Walker is primarily here and above all the person he has become. None of this is put on. He’s more than a cuz.
He and Lauren are expecting their second child and he is desperately hoping the Covid restrictions will be relaxed and he can see Kase and Leila.
In the meantime, we want to see him race again, maybe in the fall, the Cuz with the John Cena Signature Sign-Off looking away is well missed.
Racing needs more from Michael Walker. He’s the real cuz. But then there is only one of him and proud to say this.
If you or someone you know has trouble calling;
Lifeline 13 11 14
Head space 1800 650 890
Beyondblue 1300 224 636
Originally published as The Loss of “Another Mother’s Brother” haunts Michael Walker to this day, but tries to make amends for the story