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Canberra Raiders star Edrick Lee would hide at the back of the classroom in primary school, kids bullying him because of the colour of his skin.
Now the Torres Strait Islander visits schools and tells children how the teasing only made his dark skin thicker.
With a towering flat-top haircut that seemingly adds another 15cm to his already 197cm lanky frame, Lee appears to be no shrinking violet. In just 17 NRL games he's become a crowd favourite, poking his tongue out to celebrate tries and leading Raiders victory dances with slick moves in the changing room.
But Lee says he's learned to celebrate being unique, encouraging other kids to embrace their differences.
"I never thought I'd be that type of person, or have that personality," Lee says.
"I was a shy kid at school and never used to talk, and hide at the back. Now I'm all for it and really enjoying my life.
"It was only hard because at school I was different to everyone else, I was unique. Everyone saw they could pick on me, I was an easy target, in a sense.
"When they were calling me names because of my skin colour, that was the biggest one. But I've learned to have a thicker skin now.
"That [bullying] is one thing that's really helped me as a person with mental toughness, growing up as a little kid and being picked on. It made me tougher, and definitely a better person. Just being a bit older now and a bit wiser, I use that mental toughness with my injuries to get them right."
Has he been subjected to any abuse because of his skin colour on a rugby league field? "There might be the odd random in the crowd, but I know they're just trying to put me off my game."
His two NRL seasons have been interrupted by two long-term injuries, but 22-year-old Lee has already established himself as a star and cult figure of a raw Raiders backline. He's part of Queensland's Emerging Origin squad.
Lee badly broke his arm in his rookie 2013 NRL season, then suffered what was supposed to be a season-ending foot injury just three games into 2014.
He fought back to play the last five games of the season, his X-factor in attack helping Canberra finish with three consecutive wins.
Dubbed Sticks by rugby league commentator Phil Gould for his long, skinny legs, Lee says his injuries have been "bad luck", but he's also dedicated to changing his fortune.
"I've been really working hard this year on the field and ripping into the weights," Lee said. "I'm getting a bit stronger and I'm hoping to use that speed and strength on the field.
"I used to take short cuts but now I'm really trying to look after it before and after training. I really want to play a full year with no injuries. I'm doing ice baths, extra physio sessions. It took me a few years to get into that routine."
Having established himself in the NRL on the wing, Lee will move closer to the action by beginning the 2015 season in the centres.
Lee's move means he is competing directly against his cousin, Brenko Lee, 19, for a spot in the Raiders backline. Playing NRL together is a major goal of Edrick's this year.
In 2013, Edrick Lee had to talk his younger cousin out of returning to family in Queensland. A homesick Brenko called Edrick from Canberra Airport to say he was leaving.
Having experienced his own homesickness early in his career, before being mentored by Raiders legend Ken Nagas, Edrick convinced Brenko to stay.
Both have since recommitted to the Raiders long-term.
"We never thought it'd come to that situation, one of us wanting to go home that badly," Edrick said.
"Once I got the call [from Brenko] it was a shock to me at first, but all I could do was talk to him about the situation he's in and the opportunity he has here.
"I'm really glad he's stayed and hopefully we can do something this year, and make it more special for the family.
"When we go home English is the second language. It's a bit hard for me and Brenko being away from home and missing out on the cultural side of things.
"The good thing is this year we're heading up to the Torres Strait Islands for Christmas, the first time since I was a little kid."
Lee is keen to use his experiences growing up in Brisbane to help other Indigenous children. He played an active role in the NRL's Tackle Bullying campaign last year, visiting 8000 Riverina schoolchildren to tell his story.
"There is something in line this year to visit schools and keep talking about my story and my pathway from there to where I am now," he said.
"I just reflect on myself growing up, [and tell them] it doesn't matter where you come from and what lifestyle you live, it you want to chase your dreams there's no one to stop you except yourself.
"I really adapted to being a role model and it's something I look forward to, seeing the little kids in the tunnel before we run out, or in the crowd.
"I'm a unique person. I look different, I act different and I play different."