Sport is widely renowned for producing amazing stories and role models, and it occasionally carries another underlying sub-plot that takes no athletic ability yet causes so much marvel: haircuts.
From Andre Agassi’s mullet of the early ‘90s to the artistic fades of Paul Pogba and former British triple jumper Phillips Idowu, and Phil Foden’s recent Paul Gascoigne-inspired trim, style crazes have swept the sporting nation over the years.
In June, Dave Bowen continued the trend in his own way, swapping his usual look for a bright pink mohawk.
It’s not because Dave is an international sports star; instead it’s part of his mission as the founder and main driver behind Team Robert – which is supporting two causes close to the Bowen family.
The initiative is generating funds for Alder Hey Children’s Hospital after its incredible work in supporting Dave’s 10-year-old son Robert during a health scare in 2019.
Robert was diagnosed with autism aged three, so Dave is also using Team Robert to raise awareness and acceptance of people with autism and share his experiences as a parent.
“Every child is different, but the innocence and excitement is there,” Dave said. “When he has a good day he’ll sit there and talk to me for three hours about what he did.
“I’ll say, ‘great, but you’ve told me 15 times now, mate’ and he’ll say, ‘yeah, but I want to tell you again’. He will remember every single detail and his enthusiasm is contagious.
“Every day is exciting with him and every day he’s happy. Of course, there are bad times, but there are no more bad times than with his two brothers; you just have to know how to manage trickier situations.
“He’s got a very erratic sleeping pattern where he will be up until three or four o'clock in the morning. It’s adjustments that you have to make, because you can’t tweak him to fit you.
“But as long as you have an understanding family around you, the positives far outweigh the negatives.
“There’s not a person in the world that doesn’t fall in love with him within two minutes of meeting him and he’s very confident.”
Robert did not let his spirit dampen even through dark days.
He had been experiencing seizures for six months and the day before Robert’s dad and stepmum were due to get married in October 2019, he had a scan at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital. The results showed he had a brain tumour that required an operation.
Thankfully, the tumour was fully removed and Robert has had no further seizures – a journey that inspired Dave’s fundraiser.
“He didn’t like having his scans or taking medication for his seizures, but accepted it, had the operation and stayed in hospital for three days before coming out.
“It was then I thought it’s about time we give back, because he was so brave all the way through it and just treated it like it’s normal, knuckled down and got on with it. If that was me or my wife we would have been crying and wanting sympathy.
“He has made me proud all the way through his life and this is something I’m doing to try to make him proud.
“The website and fundraising itself is primarily for Alder Hey, but we represented autism on the t-shirts because it starts another conversation.
“Autism is part of him – it’s made him his character and it’s not something to hide away.
“The best people to talk about it are the people who are experiencing it themselves, and in 10 years’ time when he can articulate it better or has a better understanding of it, he’s the perfect person to go out there and say ‘this is who I am’.
“He’ll be able to push his achievements out there and show people can use autism as a positive.”
Dave and his wife previously worked with children on the autistic spectrum for a while by helping them get into schools.
As a big darts fan, sport is also something close to Dave’s heart and he is excited about finding activities that Robert can enjoy.
“He’s very repetitive in his behaviours and loves going on the swings and climbing frames – we’ve got a swing in the garden and he would spend hours on it.
“He also has an abundance of energy and loves exercise, playing football but not to a serious level. He’ll catch and kick the ball for 10 minutes and then he’ll get bored and move onto something else, and isn’t in that place to have the rules explained to him yet.
“He likes the gaming side because he is around his brothers; he’ll do Minecraft, build Mario and Luigi figures, and he’s a big Lego builder. Once he’s got something he goes at it 100 per cent and it will be good to see how he applies that in other areas like sport.
“If I could find the sport that would click to him then I have no doubt that he would do it. I just hope it’s something I can keep up with him on before he gets too good at it!”
Dave has plenty of sporting activities on his fundraiser, which is taking place throughout 2021 – from running events to a golf day, climbing Mount Snowdon, and his particular favourite: a 24-hour darts-a-thon in October.
He also engages with lots of sports-related content on social media and is playing online darts with the Graded Darts Leagues.
“Sport is universal and it’s an ideal platform for education.
“I’m using what tools I’ve got at hand to drive home the Team Robert message, which in effect, makes people aware of Robert and the autism message – those stepping stones are there.
“When I originally set this up, I had one thousand pounds as my aim because it’s a nice figure and times were hard. That was four months before lockdown and I then thought I was not going to get anything, but people were still interested and still asking.
“We are doing the Warrington Running Festival and there is more than 20 of us from my work running it – some are doing a half marathon, a 10k, and a 5k and it’s really unifying.
“I had customers at work who were donating money and we’d never spoken before. It’s times like this where you realise that there are good people in the world and that humanity is genuinely positive.
“There are negative people out there, on social media especially, but now doing this I’ve seen so many positive posts from people far and wide who are sharing the events and asking how to sign up.
“It’s a real feel-good feeling.”