‘A rugby injury ended my professional career and changed my life overnight’

But Harrison Walsh’s life kept changing and now he has some new ambitions and dreams which’s he’s already turning into reality

Former Ospreys rugby player Harrison Walsh was playing a match with his beloved Swansea RFC back in 2015 when he had a “freak” accident that was so grave it severed the nerves in his leg and left him with “no feeling” and impaired movement in his right foot. His life had changed overnight and his career came to an abrupt end.

“I’d always loved rugby, ever since I was very young. I first picked up the sport in school and as I continued to play with local clubs my passion for it grew immensely. It became evident that rugby was something I really excelled in and eventually became something I could see myself doing as a career,” Harrison recalled.

“I was lucky enough to be offered full-time contracts and began playing with the U18 Ospreys team. In Wales, we are obviously extremely passionate about rugby, so the thought of doing this for a living with a potential to go on to represent my country was a dream come true!”

That dream, however, was to come to a sudden halt. “[After my injury] I was told I could struggle to walk and might never be able to run again. It was devastating to hear just as I’d started playing professionally,” he added. “I felt really lost and didn’t know what to do next. It was hard for me to go through that change of identity on a mental level, but also physically as I began to walk differently too. It became difficult to avoid what had happened to me. I’d never really considered the term ‘disabled’ but suddenly I realised that my life had completely changed.” For the latest Welsh news delivered to your inbox sign up to our newsletter

After spending time in rehabilitation, Harrison started to look at different career options for his future – and soon started trying out different sports to discover new strengths.

Recalling the journey to discovering his skill in the discus, Harrison said: “I actually took a long time to find out what I wanted to do following my injury because there wasn’t one obvious thing I was drawn to or found I was as good as compared to playing rugby. I’d tried a lot of different things from coaching rugby, going to university, to starting a career in engineering, painting houses, and working in a kitchen.”

Later, Harrison contacted Disability Sport Wales and started trying different sports. “I began studying at Cardiff Metropolitan University, learning about strength, conditioning, and rehabilitation. It was such a brilliant decision, because I was able to train whilst being a full-time student. I loved my course and being able to train hard again helped me to build back my confidence as a sportsperson,” he said.

Fast-forward eight years, and Harrison is now a Commonwealth and European medallist for discus and has his eyes set on the Paralympics next year. This International Day of Persons with Disabilities (Sunday, December 3), Harrison has spoken about how his life drastically changed after his injury – and says he could never have expected to be training for the Paralympics

Sharing his advice to other people going through tough times, he said: “Don’t be afraid of the opportunities that come up. I spent a lot of time looking for jobs, and figuring out what I could do because I had no idea. My whole future had changed in a matter of a few seconds, and I really struggled at first, but I had no idea I’d go on to be an athlete in the Paralympic games.

“I don’t think anybody should try and relate their situation to anyone else’s, because we are all different. Everyone experiences unique challenges throughout life, and it is all about how you react. Going through difficult times can help you to become a more resilient person whatever career you’re in, and for jobseekers looking to get into a career it can be especially challenging. It might feel like the worst thing in the world in the moment, but it will make you who you are.”

Harrison supports the Working Wales ReAct+ programme which offers free personalised employment support to people in Wales, including advice and funding for training for those out of work or facing redundancy.

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