American football helped me battle post-traumatic stress disorder

Danny Tarr
Tarr, pictured at the recent Trojans' community day, has emphasised the importance of sport helping with mental health

"I had some bad damage to my ribs and abdomen, busted the whole left side of my arm and my hand. I had ligament and tissue damage, You name it, I had it."

29 July is a date that will forever stick in the memory of Danny Tarr.

A horrific car accident meant he almost lost everything - his life, his career and importantly for Tarr, his sport.

Despite also being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after the crash, American Football has helped him to "get back on the saddle" of life.

A linebacker for the Belfast Trojans, Tarr has loved the sport all his life, before the accident meant everything was put on hold.

"The crash was a head-on collision and it was a lot to process," said the Derry native, "I was able to climb out of the car and to this day I'm not sure how I was able to do that.

"When the adrenaline dies down you realise how lucky you are. It does constantly play on your mind, what if?"

'I could smell the burning'

"The PTSD only kicked in months later," Tarr reflects, "I had a dream of a car crash, it was my vehicle, but I was an onlooker watching it happen.

"I could smell the burning, just as I had done when I was in my accident. I woke up in a cold sweat and out of breath, I'd never had a nightmare like that before.

"I was then diagnosed with PTSD," recalls the 28-year-old, "I'd never had a mental health condition of any kind until the crash, so it was tough to accept.

Danny Tarr's car after the crash
The aftermath of the crash that left Danny Tarr with post-traumatic stress disorder

"At first I couldn't really understand it, but I'm able to deal with it now and that's largely down to the people that I have around me.

"Mental health is such a concerning thing in Northern Ireland, especially in young males, but sport can play a big role in helping that.

"My family have been great since the crash, my friends, my work colleagues, I've everyone surrounding me. It's nice having that network but at the end of the day it is down to me and how I deal with it."

'I've been given a second chance'

"Coming out of the accident felt like a new lease of life for me. I know there are complications, but it feels like a rebirth for me and it's made me see things in a different light.

"There was a three-week period, from me having the crash to the Shamrock Bowl semi-final, where we played the Dublin Rebels, and I gave myself a task to make it to that game in Dublin.

"It was great to be down watching the guys play, and I like to think the guys seeing me there gave them a bit more hope.

Belfast Trojans v Augustana Vikings
The Trojans place a strong emphasis on community and played US College side Augustana Vikings in an exhibition game to promote the importance of mental health

"They lost at the very end, but they played out of their skin and I like to think I was their mascot.

"I think that is the best thing about this club, we're all one big family. No matter what anyone goes through there is someone to put their arm around you.

"Sport has always meant so much to me and American football has given me a chance to push myself like I never have before, on 29 July I'll be cracking open a beer and celebrating it like a birthday."

Where was the money going to come from?

Tarr admits he's still quite nervous when he's out driving, saying "there's always that fear" when out on the road.

The accident also affected his work as a freelance grip in the film industry, missing out on the last two weeks of a contract.

"You start worrying where the money is going to come from and about paying the bills. It hurt more because it wasn't my fault and it was down to the actions of others."

The aftermath of the crash
The impact from the accident last July has taken both a physical and mental toll on Tarr

That led him to return to work early, which he admits in hindsight "wasn't the best thing to do."

"I wasn't even doing anything and took a really bad shooting pain down my left arm," he recalls, "My blood pressure and heart rate were really high. The on-set medics were telling me I shouldn't have been in.

"Away from work, watching the guys train and play made such an important impact in my journey. Just being around the team and getting back to some form of reality was the best thing to do."

Born to play football

"I got into American football through family and friends, when I was younger I used to go over and watch the games in Boston.

"I used to stay up late for the Superbowl and get the next day off school, so it has always been a big part of my life.

Belfast Trojans
The Belfast Trojans are Northern Ireland's most successful American Football Club having won the Shamrock Bowl, Ireland's version of the Super Bowl, four times

"I moved to London and that was my first time experiencing football properly. I played there for four years before coming home and starting with the Trojans.

Tarr says that there has always been a following of American football across Ireland, but the growth of the sport in recent years "is massive".

"We're all amateur players here but at the end of the day it's run like a proper American football club," he adds.

Goals for the future

"I could have quite easily got out of that car and thought, what's the point? But I love this sport, it's taught me never to give up, and I was never going to let that stop me. .

"At no stage did I think I would never be able to play again. American Football has influenced by life, it's been so important to me and it's my main focus to get back on the field.

"It's been a tough journey, but American football has spurred me on to get back into shape, both mentally and physically.

Danny Tarr playing American football
Tarr hopes that lining up in a Belfast Trojans jersey will be a familiar sight again soon

"I've been told to come back at my own discretion, but to try and avoid hard tackles. There were some worries that if I came back too soon then I'd suffer a setback.

"It's the nature of the sport that you've got to be able to take a hit, in the heat of the battle it would be impossible to avoid.

"My goal from here on in is to get back playing again, I love the sport too much to give it up. The main thing for me is to get back playing football.

"I've just got to take it one step at a time to get back out there. I can't see myself giving it up for a long time yet.

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