Strength in vulnerability: Galwegians RFC coach discusses mental health for Movember

By Ciarán Ó Flaithearta

“You realise when you become an adult that most of the people around you have mental health issues or have gone through stuff too.”

Ayrton Walshe is the strength and conditioning coach at Galwegians RFC. This November, Walshe, along with the Galwegians RFC men’s rugby team, have decided to take part in Movember, in aid of men’s mental health and raising awareness around prostate and testicular cancer.

Before his involvement with Galwegians, Walshe had gone through some callous times. From a young age, Walsh had grown up in a difficult home environment with his mother. He often felt isolated and was seriously malnourished.

This had major effects on his physical and mental health and had a negative impact on his self-esteem. Walshe says “I didn’t learn to make eye contact until I was in my fifth year of school”.

Struggles in Galway

After moving to Galway to be with his father, Ayrton was a victim of bullying in school. Walshe discovered the gym, which gave him the confidence to stand up to his bullies. This outlet for self-improvement started to expand into all areas of life such as school and his social life.

He prides himself on his mental resilience, saying, “I’ve had depression and that’s always going to come and go but I want to make my life as good as possible so that the sh*t isn’t so sh*t.”

During his second year of college, his father was in a serious car crash, leaving him hospitalised. After this, Walshe began to struggle with depression which progressively got worse due to his busy lifestyle, juggling several jobs, and a relationship, which he said left him numb.

Following the breakdown of the relationship, his depression spiralled out of control, as Ayrton recalled trying to make a pizza at work while being unable to hold back the tears.

Getting into Movember

Walshe was left trying to put himself back together for the following two months. Thanks to a lecturer in college, he received an emergency counselling session at ATU Galway. After forty minutes of tears, he decided to explore the idea of counselling. 

After six weeks on a waiting list, he began sessions in Let’s Get Talking Galway, and after six in-depth explorations of his past, he began to improve. It was at this point that Walsh first got involved with Movember.

“I got into Movember when I was coming through the other side of my mental health struggles. I wanted to help even just one person who was in a similar situation and to raise awareness for mental health in men,” he explained. 

Ayrton has been taking part and growing the moustache since 2019 with a group of friends but he hopes that this year will be his most successful yet, with 16 participants and over €780 raised so far.

“Everyone has problems”

Walsh believes the position he occupies helps him to get to know the players on a deeper level, “As an S&C coach you often have chats with lads about their lives and how it’s going and literally everyone has problems. These lads are juggling full-time jobs, college and training, gymming and matches on top of that.”

Men are seen and expected to be strong in today’s society and it is often overlooked that they might be struggling. Due to this stereotype, men are more likely to bottle up their feelings than to be vulnerable.

Walshe says that these expectations are why the team must lead by example for the younger generations, “The goal is that the squad act as a role model for younger teams,” he explains.

“We need to lead by example, that we are selfless and go beyond for the community and each other especially, to encourage boys to be more open and share their experiences.”

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