Powerful message for Sam’s mates
THERE were, of course, tears and commiserations in the north of Sydney this afternoon as a local fun-loving larrikin, Sam Ballard was laid to rest.
However, the massive crowd - which spilt onto the street outside Macquarie Park Cemetery's intimate Palm Chapel - cracked into smiles and laughter as they heard wild stories of a 29-year-old who lived life to the limit.
Not feeling anything at first, Sam complained of serious pain in his legs in the days that followed and it was soon after that doctors determined he had been infected with rat lungworm.
His close friends, school principal, doctor and family all spoke at the funeral this afternoon about the effect of that tragic moment on Sam and how it affected him up until his death last week.
However, they all agreed, the medical battle didn't take the cheeky sparkle in his eyes and zest for life away from the mischievous North Shore personality - who kept those who knew him laughing until the end.
His former school friend Sam Jenkins said it was clear there was something different about Sam from a very young age - saying his close mate was "as cheeky as they come".
Mr Jenkins and others described Sam as a fiercely loyal, soft and kind friend who looked out for everybody.
"He always found the best of any situation, no matter how dark," he told hundreds who gathered in Macquarie Park this afternoon - describing Sam as "drunk on life".
His friends spun hilarious yarns which drew laughter from the hundreds who turned out today. Mr Jenkins described how Sam had his belongings stolen when he was in Thailand and was left with only $140.
This all came after Sam had fallen so ill on the previous Thailand trip with the boys that he spent the entire time playing sudoku and vowing to make a heroic comeback on the second trip.
Instead of sulking or complaining, Sam decided to make light of the situation by playing a savage prank on his mates.
Mr Jenkins said he handed them bottles of Gatorade and, after his mates had drank them, he kept looking at them with an "evil smile".
They noticed their heads were feeling funny and they had "very small protrusions" (according to Mr Jenkins) coming from their shorts. Sam had spiked them all with a sex drug.
It was this "outrageous sense of humour" which his younger brother Josh said made him light up any room.
Josh said he didn't want Sam's friends to "feel any guilty for what happened that night" in 2010 and praised them for helping look after his brother in the tough eight years which followed.
"We love you and you are part of our extended family forever," he said.
Josh also said his brother "chose" his time to go last week after a "final party" - a cruise with those he loved.
Finally, he said he hoped his brother was "smoking a dart" with their late father, jamming out to The Beatles and taking a cheeky punt on the pokies.
Dr Lewis Macken, who oversaw much of Sam's treatment since 2010, also spoke at the funeral and described how the bright young man's sense of humour never left him.
He said Sam's perseverance and the unwavering support of his family and friends taught him and his colleagues at the Royal North Shore Intensive Care Unit valuable life lessons through his "grit" and "bubbly personality" which always shone through at the toughest times.
Matt Macoustra, Sam's former principal, described how talented the young sportsman was a natural at everything he put his mind to and this was evidenced in an emotional childhood video montage which showed Sam dominating on the running track at a young age.
An obituary in the Sydney Morning Herald this week it stated Sam's "army of friends" were there until the end.
"He had an army of friends and family who loved and cared for him for which he was truly grateful," the tribute read. "His last days were the happiest and he was surrounded by a room full of love."
Sam's last words were reserved for his mum, Katie. The Sunday Project's Lisa Wilkinson, who spoke with the family ahead of the news on Sunday, revealed that Sam told her: "I love you."