Justin Har­ri­son

Rugby World - - CONTENTS -

i miss my old mate Dan Vick­er­man (who took his life ear­lier this year). i played with him for many years, and his mates will al­ways won­der whether they should have spot­ted the signs. it seemed like he had it all mapped out. He had a wife and kids, he was a Cam­bridge Blue and was well liked in the cor­po­rate sec­tor – there were no dis­rup­tive life events like a mar­riage break­down, al­co­holism or bank­ruptcy. Vicks did talk about feel­ing iso­lated and in hind­sight it was a cue to say, ‘you’re still part of the rugby fam­ily’.

The wider mes­sage is that de­pres­sion can lead to poor de­ci­sions in a vul­ner­a­ble mo­ment. it’s per­pet­u­ated by the ex­treme highs and lows that pro sports­men ex­pe­ri­ence.

if you equate it to busi­ness, play­ing Test rugby means you’ve reached the top two per cent of your pro­fes­sion, you’re an in­dus­try cap­tain but are rel­e­vant for a lim­ited time. Vicks’s death stim­u­lated a lot of con­ver­sa­tion amongst us play­ers to start talk­ing more and look­ing out for oth­ers who had ex­pressed con­cern about their self-worth. Once a Wal­laby, al­ways a Wal­laby, isn’t it?

That’s part of the rea­son i’m fly­ing over from France in a few weeks to play an all-stars game at sara­cens with the likes of John smit, mark Cueto and matt stevens, and lend some sup­port to the RPA’s lift the Weight cam­paign. We need to stim­u­late the con­ver­sa­tion for longer than it takes some old boys to jog or walk around a pitch for 80 min­utes. it should be a great day and gives us a chance to re­con­nect with each other. Our aim is to turn the great ocean liner that is pro­fes­sional sport around to re­mem­ber those who’ve been left be­hind.

Per­son­ally, there have been seis­mic events that will for­ever be wo­ven into my life tapestry, dark mo­ments. With­out the love of my fam­ily, and the woman who went on to be my wife and give me two sons, there was a time when i didn’t care if i made my next birth­day. i’m much hap­pier now. Af­ter mov­ing to France and coach­ing at Nar­bonne, i joined AFEX, a global pay­ment and risk man­age­ment com­pany, and i have a sense of pur­pose.

my kids will soon be old enough to read what some peo­ple have writ­ten about me, but i hope they’ll have formed enough of a moral com­pass to look past the mis­in­for­ma­tion, ru­mour and in­nu­endo on­line.

Re­tire­ment is a dif­fi­cult beast to wres­tle. many of us are used to pro­ject­ing a glad­i­a­to­rial im­age and hav­ing ev­ery part of the day mapped out, so when you stop you don’t recog­nise the new world you’re in or your part in it.

What we’re see­ing now is the first full gen­er­a­tion of pro­fes­sion­als. Be­fore, play­ers weren’t de­fined by rugby be­cause they had other jobs. Play­ers who’ve re­tired in the past five to ten years are trail­blaz­ers as pro rugby’s first in­sti­tu­tion­alised prod­ucts. i don’t want this to sound like some poor me vi­o­lin story about a pro ath­lete who didn’t get paid big bucks; it’s about be­ing able to wake up and tell your fam­ily what your pur­pose in life is, other than be­ing de­fined by a tired youTube clip.

many peo­ple say pro rugby is like an ex­ten­sion of your school­days. When you’re in the sheds, you think you’ll have friends for life when in re­al­ity you will speak to only two or three team-mates reg­u­larly as you get pulled all over the world. you don’t get those mo­ments to check in be­cause you’re not to­gether. lives will be lost through our in­ac­tion and there’s work to be done. if we can stop some­one mak­ing a grave de­ci­sion, give them a sense of com­mu­nity and be­long­ing, we’ll suc­ceed.

The rugby fam­ily is the most pow­er­ful mafia in the world. it can nur­ture and care for its off­spring, but it needs to re­mem­ber its duty of care to pro­fes­sional play­ers. This is an is­sue that tran­scends sports and con­ti­nents, with the com­mon thread that ath­letes are strug­gling with the end of their ca­reers. We’re mak­ing progress but more sup­port is needed – and days like the one at Al­lianz Park are a step in the right di­rec­tion. l For tick­ets to the all-stars game on sat 30 June, 8.15pm, at Al­lianz Park see sev­en­sandthecity.com

Topsy-turvy Har­ri­son has found it tough post-rugby

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