Finding solace in sport: how rugby saved this man from the deepest pits of depression

Jess Glass September 6, 2017
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A gay Scottish man formed an LGBT-inclusive rugby club – and says it saved his life.

Bullied for his weight and his sexuality at school, Adam Harrison shied away from sports and struggled to find a way of expressing his love for rugby.

Now, in a story of “rucks to riches”, Adam founded and now proudly coaches the Glasgow Alphas, an inclusive team for people of all sizes, genders and sexualities.

The Alphas at Glasgow Pride
Adam and the team at Glasgow Pride (Photo: Glasgow Alphas / Facebook)

The coach had to fight mental health and body image difficulties at school, as bullying prevented him from staying in his High School rugby team.

Harrison said that he has always felt at home while playing rugby – unless he was being taunted by his classmates.

“Being a bigger kid, I had the opportunity to not feel so big and clumsy. I felt I could be myself,” he told PinkNews.

He explained to the BBC: “I was bullied for being fat.

“I would hear horrible taunts in the corridors, as well as the changing rooms.”

This bullying only became worse when Harrison was outed.

“When I was about 14, I confided in a bisexual guy I liked, telling him my feelings.

“He told somebody else and it spiralled from there.”

These incidents contributed to Harrison suffering from depression for many years, which had a huge effect on him.

“My depression had led me to have vivid images of self-harm.

“I began spiralling and flying through several dark emotions in spells that lasted minutes.”

However, the future coach’s love of the sport remained and was nurtured by supportive friends at University, where he joined the rugby team.

Homophobia in sport is prevalent across the world, particularly in Harrison’s home country, with a 2016 study finding that 60 percent of Scottish sports fans are “persistently homophobic.”

While Harrison did not have the opportunity to come out to his teammates at university, playing the sport he loved gave him a new lease of life.

He said: “Rugby became the most important thing when it saved my life…I was a whole different person this time.

“I had lost a lot of weight, I was more confident; I felt nobody could stop me.”

He saw the need for an inclusive rugby club in Glasgow and wanted to promote the experience that he felt he should have had in school – so he formed the Glasgow Alphas.

He was overwhelmed by the response he received.

“I realised I’m not the only gay rugby fan in Glasgow,” he said.

Related: A study from earlier this year showed LGBT youth are half as likely to play sport in comparison to their heterosexual and cisgender peers.

“My following continued to grow and eventually, with a couple of friends to help, Glasgow Alphas was born.”

Harrison gave credit to the team and to the sport itself for saving his life.

Glasgow Alphas (Adam Harrison left)
Adam Harrison (Glasgow Alphas / Facebook)

“I’ve transformed both mentally and physically, from a shell of a man to a confident rugby player and coach,” he said.

The team has also grown alongside Harrison.

It joined other inclusive rugby teams in Britain, such as Edinburgh’s Caledonian Thebans and the Bristol Bisons.

Harrison told PinkNews: “We’ve grown and shrunk and rebuilt ourselves stronger to better tackle the challenges we face, as a team, together.”

The Glasgow Alphas has now travelled internationally to play with other inclusive rugby clubs, and has taken part in Glasgow Pride since its inception.

“Involving ourselves in Glasgow Pride is a big achievement and a big step for us in terms of visibility,” he said.

“But it also allows our straight allies to see what our community has to offer to ourselves, and themselves.”

Harrison also said that the importance of inclusive teams can’t be underestimated.

He told the BBC: “Growing up, I’d never been around LGBTQ people.

“The Alphas gave me so much more than a team, they gave me a family.”

More: depression, Glasgow, LGBT, mental health, Rugby, rugby league, rugby union, Scotland, Scotland, sport, sports, UK

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