SURF and sun-streaked hair, riding waves breaking off Pacific swells - growing up at Byron Bay gave Nathan and Dru Baggaley an idyllic Aussie lifestyle.
Part of a strong and happy family, the brothers would never have foreseen the crash of their aspirations and dreams.
Their love of water and sports was shared with a great bunch of mates, hanging out as part of Byron's tanned and healthy surf club families as little nippers, then as fun-loving teens volunteering as surf lifesavers.
Athletic, friendly and competitive, Dru was regarded as a 'mentor' and role model that all young nippers looked up to. But his involvement 'seemed to fade off' in later years as surf club members recalled seeing him drinking heavily and frequenting popular Byron nightspots like Cheeky Monkey's.
Each brother had his own dreams. Dru to study, then become part of the family oyster farming business, and play competitive rugby. Nathan focused on his Olympic kayaking dream - unsuccessful at Sydney 2000, but winning two silver medals at Athens in 2004, and wanting a crack at Beijing in 2008.
But by then the cracks were forming that would end the golden days, as the brothers headed toward making the destructive choices that would so publicly wreck their lives and devastate their very supportive parents, Sue and Noel.
In letters to the Lismore District Court Judge James Black, Nathan, 33, portrays his life as being 'exemplary' before his 'short period of stupidity'. He revealed his pain, anger and loss when, after representing Australia for 10 years as an elite athlete, he was suspended from his sport in 2006 on what he called a drug 'technicality'.
“I trained four times a day, six days a week,” he said in the letters.
“This took a lot of commitment and sacrifice, but I enjoyed the challenge. It wasn't until I was suspended that I found myself in trouble.
“I lost my livelihood, my friends, my structured life and, worst of all, the respect of my peers.
“I struggled to accept the punishment for an offence I didn't commit.
“I also struggled as I was cut off from what I truly loved as I had put so much of my time and life into my sport.”
Nathan said he was 'cut off' from any support from the Australian Institute of Sport.
“I felt cheated as only three years before I had been named for the AIS's most prestigious award, Athlete of the Year. They celebrated my success, yet when I found myself in trouble I was ignored and left to fend for myself,” he wrote.
“I found myself totally out of my comfort zone and all alone with no idea of what to do. I had sacrificed gaining a trade or a profession in order to pursue my sporting dreams and representing my country.”
With his sport stripped from him, Nathan was left without a job and fell into deep depression. Partying and pretending to be happy, he regularly used ecstasy to 'forget about my problems'.
Life looked brighter as the end of his AIS suspension neared, with Nathan developing a kayak-making business and training hard for competition and, hopefully, Beijing.
When Dru was unable to repay a loan from Nathan to help with his oyster leases, Nathan, who needed money to compete overseas, said he twice helped supply ecstasy to Dru's clients.
“I did not receive money from them. The only reward I would get was that Dru would get back on his feet and I would get the money back,” Nathan wrote.
In his letter to Judge Black, Dru, 27, wrote of the devastation of the Baggaleys' oyster farm, with Dru describing how his family suffered financial hardship when a 1998 chlorine spill into the Brunswick River destroyed their oyster leases. The spill forced Dru to abandon his tertiary studies to help support the family financially.
He also revealed the impact on his life from a brush with death when he was glassed in a savage attack outside a Gold Coast surf club in April 2004. He was angry when his attacker received a light jail sentence.
The attack left him suffering post traumatic stress disorder. He became addicted to gambling and involved with the criminal drug world.
“I was led deeper into the drug scene by a number of older persuasive people,” Dru wrote.
“I believe they used me to generate themselves money ... a gross misjudgement on my behalf. I never had dreams to become filthy rich and I never lived the high life.”
Dru expressed regrets at being arrested before he able to play in the Brisbane rugby competition.
“It is something I will always wonder about ... whether I was good enough to make it professionally,” he writtes.
The Baggaley's parents described Dru as the most sensitive of their three sons, saying he had a strong community spirit. He worked with Byron's indigenous youth, and had an ability to 'connect' with people from all backgrounds.
They had since realised what 'dire effects' the attack on Dru had had on his mental well-being.
Nathan will serve at least five years' in jail and Dru eight years.
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