Today former Northampton Saints centre, Tom Stephenson, begins his epic #TryFor5 challenge in aid of Restart Rugby to raise awareness and funds for players that are in need mental health support.
Stephenson retired from the professional game at the age of 26, and coming to terms with early retirement due to injury led to mental health issues resurfacing that he had not tackled during his career.
Transitioning out of the game can take its toll emotionally on players, and for Tom it was no different:
“During my career as a professional rugby player, I experienced many highs but also many lows due to injuries,” he said. “The lows impacted me more than I ever knew at the time, and I spiralled into depression and drinking heavily in order to cope with my injuries.
“I never addressed the depression and alcoholism at the time, so when I ended up retiring and feeling unprepared for life after rugby, I again spiralled into a scary and dark place.”
🎥 Former player @tomstephenson13 gives insight into retirement & shares his mental health top tips.— The RPA (@theRPA) May 11, 2021
Tomorrow, Tom embarks on an epic challenge to complete 5⃣ marathons in 5⃣ days for @restartrugby. 🏉🏃
Donate here ➡️https://t.co/7weFMDC6yr#TryFor5 #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek pic.twitter.com/uSN7x1Vwu4
Stephenson reached a critical point and certain events led him to seek professional support for his mental health and he started confiding in his friends and family about how things really were.
He continued: “I thought by saying I wasn’t ok or by saying I was struggling, and asking for help, I would be perceived as weak. So, I did what most men do, and bottled it up and thought it would all go away.
“Looking back, I believe I did this mainly because I didn’t fully understand the consequences of not talking about your problems and the real impact this can have on your mental health.”
Now, Stephenson is focused on using his voice by sharing his story to raise awareness and funds to support those who feel like they can’t open up about the challenges that life has thrown their way.
The former centre – who made 54 appearances in Black, Green and Gold – is embarking on a physical challenge to complete five marathons in five days, starting off at Franklin’s Gardens today before finishing at the home of English Rugby, Twickenham Stadium, on May 16.
He is aiming to raise £20,000 to support Restart and the vital work they do to support Premiership players every season.
“Players are very fortunate to have a charity like Restart, who run a full-time counselling service for male and female rugby players who are in need of it,” Stephenson added.
“Like so many charities over the last 12 months, Restart’s income has taken a huge hit, and for these reasons I want to give back to this fantastic charity so they can continue their great work supporting our rugby community!”