Although his father is of Irish Catholic stock, Rulla’s mother is a proud Aboriginal activist and a member of the Mansell clan, a Pakana moonbird woman who raised Rulla and his older brother Rory in the traditions of her people and her culture.
“When I arrived at St Patrick’s College in Year 7 it was really hard to adjust at first,” said Rulla, who recently moved to Adelaide to play football for Glenelg and work part-time at ABC Radio.
“I got in a bit of trouble at school but being educated in a Catholic school helped me to realise that it was possible to meet people with a completely different upbringing to my own.”
Now Rulla is using his own experience, which has included a battle with depression, to help other young people navigate some of the challenges of life.
As founder and director of Make Runs Maxi, the 26-year-old works with schools, sporting clubs and community groups to enhance positive social and emotional health and wellbeing.
The registered not-for-profit charity was formed in honour of the late Isaac ‘Maxi’ Walters, also a student of St Patrick’s College. Rulla coached Maxi at the Under 19 level before the 16-year-old took his own life.
Isaac’s uncle was Rulla’s first football coach and made the sport enjoyable enough for him to keep playing the game.
“I always had a bit of a soft spot for Maxi because of that, as well as his fearless approach to the ball, and his aim to become a better player…it made him someone you wanted to work with because you knew he valued what you would tell him,” Rulla said.
“A psychologist I met through my involvement with Indigenous footy teams suggested I talk about my own experience as therapy – that was just before Maxi’s death.”
Isaac’s mother and other local community leaders got behind the idea and are now members of the charity’s board.
Rulla spent Year 11 as a boarder at Assumption College in Victoria, where his father had been a student, and after being recruited to Echuca to play football he completed his schooling at St Joseph’s College.
He moved back to Tasmania to undertake a cadetship with the ABC and play for Launceston Football Club under former Essendon, Richmond and Glenelg player Sam Lonergan (now coach of the SANFL club West Torrens-Woodville in Adelaide).
When the opportunity came to play football for Glenelg, Rulla said he decided to come here to “chase my dreams, tick off some goals and reach my full potential”.
“I come from the outskirts of a town with about 200 people in it and sport has helped me get out and see more of the world and the people in it,” he said.
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