Glasgow Alphas: Why coach Adam 'owes life' to inclusive rugby

Adam Harrison: image showing transformation
Adam has overcome issues with weight and depression to become a confident rugby coach

Bullied for his weight and sexuality, Adam Harrison was spiralling into despair.

As a teenager, Adam loved rugby, but was unable to find a place within it. He didn't think he'd ever fulfil his dream of playing in a team. Now he blazes a trail as a coach, player, inspiring a new generation of LGBTQ players.

He explains how rugby rescued him...

Rugby became the most important thing when it saved my life.

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.

Adam as a young child
Adam as a young child

Over time, through my team and through rugby, I've grown exponentially as a person, and now I cannot imagine my life without my rugby family.

Kicking off

I was so young when it first began, before I even really knew myself or what was going on. I became ashamed of myself and my body.

After taking up rugby in high school, I was bullied for being fat. I would hear horrible taunts in the corridors, as well as the changing rooms. Eventually, I stopped attending extra-curricular activities for fear of what could come next.

Then the homophobic bullying began.

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.

Adam at university
During university, Adam's weight reached 18 stone

I found myself in a vicious cycle of eating and committing to no exercise. I gained a lot of weight and by the time I was 21, I weighed 18 stone.

Tackling demons

Encouraged by a friend at university, I eventually joined the rugby team and got back into the sport. Regrettably, I never came out to that team, and injuries meant I didn't finish the season, but confronting my fears as an adult was good for me.

After I finished my studies I took a leap of faith, moved out of my mother's house and headed to Glasgow on my own.

Adam Training at Creighton rugby. Aug 2012
Adam was determined to lose weight and get back to playing the sport he loved

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. The only thing holding me back was my mental health, which took time to learn how to manage.

My housemate planted the idea of forming a new inclusive rugby club, and I couldn't let it go.

I used social media, networking apps and any connections I had made during my short time in the city, and when people started to come back to me, I immediately felt connected to them. I realised I'm not the only gay rugby fan in Glasgow.

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

Winging it

Our first training session was interesting to say the least. I had no clue what I was doing, but as I was one of two or three who had ever touched a rugby ball before, I took it upon myself to coach the guys.

First Claymore Shield. Feb 2016
Since forming, the Alphas have played in many matches and tournaments, meeting people from all around the world

I never thought of coaching - never even thought I was a good player. But I very quickly fell in love with seeing the guys and the team develop, watching them grow and become more confident at each match.

Taking centre stage

The Alphas became Glasgow's first inclusive rugby team. Our debut match against Caledonian Thebans RFC was the first time two Scottish inclusive teams had played each other - a milestone in itself.

Since then, we have played in many amazing matches and tournaments around the country.

Alphas at their first 'Touch My Brum' touch rugby tournament
Adam loves watching the team develop, seeing the players grow and become more confident at each match

We've been part of a project inspiring vulnerable adults into employment and healthier lifestyles through rugby and travelled to Birmingham twice for 'Touch My Brum', an inclusive touch rugby tournament hosted annually by the Birmingham Bulls RFC.

A handful of us even went to Madrid in May to play in the Union Cup, another inclusive rugby tournament where over 1,000 guys played full 15-player contact rugby union.

Reflection

Growing up, I'd never been around LGBTQ people. The Alphas gave me so much more than a team, they gave me a family.

In the past, I never smiled naturally and I was anxious in most situations. Now I speak in front of crowds for the rugby club, and I'm looking to branch into schools and communities to help other people who are struggling to find their purpose in life.

I owe my life to rugby and those who have helped me through.

TRI rugby game in April 2016
Adam is now looking to inspire the next generation of LGTBQ players by speaking in local schools and events

My journey has definitely been a rollercoaster. There have been so many ups and downs. My mental health issues still affect me now, and I don't expect them to ever leave me completely. But I've learnt to use rugby and my friends as an outlet to help me cope.

I've transformed both mentally and physically from a shell of a man to a confident rugby player and coach.

It has been - in a word - epic.

There are nearly 100 inclusive teams around the world governed by International Gay Rugby. They overlook the tournaments, help develop clubs and support players.

Looking to get into rugby yourself? Visit the Get Inspired guide to find out how you can get started.