Adam Walker: Drugs-ban Salford prop grateful for second chance after seeking help
Salford Red Devils prop Adam Walker believes his ban for drug use was a blessing that has helped him appreciate his position as a professional player.
Walker, 28, was banned for 20 months after testing positive for cocaine in 2017, a suspension which ended his time at Super League side Wakefield Trinity.
He is now at Salford hoping to rebuild his career after seeking help.
"If I hadn't been caught then I'm sure the scenario could have ended up worse," he told BBC Radio Manchester.
"I was on a downward spiral, my career was going downhill. I wasn't concentrating on my rugby or my personal life, and then if it wasn't for the guys who caught me I'd still be going that way."
Walker's ban, handed out in August, was backdated to 14 July 2017, the date of his positive test, meaning he was eligible to return to action on Wednesday.
And he could make his Salford debut at the first available opportunity after being named in their initial 19-man squad for Sunday's trip to Castleford.
Time on the sidelines helped refocus Walker, whose brother Jonathan also played professionally, back on the sport which he has been involved with since his youth.
"It was one of the main things, I realised how much rugby meant to me, it was pretty much my life," said Walker, who joined Salford in January.
"My family loves it, everyone in my family plays it and realising I didn't have it, I'd lost pretty much everything.
"Realising I'd lost it I think made me kick-start my career again."
Struggling before the ban, and help after it
The Scotland international, who was initially selected as part of the 2017 World Cup squad before the failed test, had also endured a tough time off the field in 2016.
While at Hull KR he was accused of child sex offences but the case was dismissed in court.
He admits his own form then dipped on the pitch amid a change of clubs from St Helens to Wakefield in 2017.
"I had things going on in my personal life," Walker added. "My playing career resulted in bad performances because of that.
"Because of that I was self-medicating on the drugs, I didn't talk to anyone about it and was trying to deal with it myself."
It is a coincidence that former England and Arsenal defender Tony Adams, who formed the Sporting Chance charity after battling his own addiction to alcohol, should now be the Rugby Football League president.
His charity has been key to Walker's rehabilitation, helping him with his path back to professional sport.
"After I was caught, things didn't stop there, I got in touch with the RFL and they have a Sporting Chance charity clinic who run counselling sessions, it came from there," he added.
"My family had been trying to support me but didn't know the best way how to.
"Going to Sporting Chance we talked about the issues and it went on from there."
Positive steps moving forward
Walker has been keen to express his gratitude to the RFL, the charity which helped him and even UK Anti-Doping for the wake-up call test which changed his life.
Moving forward, the Halifax-born front rower wants to re-establish himself as a regular Super League player but perhaps most importantly as a role-model for those also struggling to cope with issues in sport, or in what he calls 'real life'.
"I like to be honest with people and I don't like to point my finger anywhere else," Walker added. "I take full responsibility for my actions.
"I know there are other people struggling and I see it in other sports and in life, how people react and go down the wrong road.
"Seeing how others react can help people. See your GP, speak to family and friends, it's taking the first step sometimes that helps."
Returning to the game
After being given a route back into the game with Salford with two months of his ban still to serve, Walker is keen to repay the faith shown in him by coach Ian Watson.
And he admitted to "getting butterflies" after being included in the squad to take on a Tigers side who, like the Red Devils, have won four times in Super League this season.
"I'm not trying to think about it too much," said Walker. "I'm sure I'm going to be nervous. I don't want to let the lads down, especially when they've been performing so well.
"Normally you play better when you're enjoying it so I'm going to try and enjoy the moment.
"There were times when I thought I'd never get back into rugby. I thought my career had gone pretty much.
"Now I can see this first game around the corner, hopefully I'm selected, it's going to be a massive step for me.
"I see it as a fresh start. My body feels good, I actually feel better than I did when I was first coming through.
"I'm the fittest I've been and in the best shape of my life. Match fitness is totally different, so once you're out there, it's a matter of getting the first carries and then getting your second wind as well."