Talented team-mate of Wales stars lost career after catastrophic incident but then did something special

Once, Harrison Walsh’s primary concern in life involved putting opponents on a rugby field through the mincer at scrum time.

A prop who featured in the same Wales age-grade teams as the likes of Adam Beard and Owen Watkin, he had dreams of representing his country and, if he realised his potential, even figuring for the British and Irish Lions. Having played for Wales U16s and U18s, things were going well.

But then, on a fateful afternoon in January 2015, a catastrophic injury finished his career.

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Walsh was 18 years of age and playing for Swansea as a replacement in a Swalec Championship match against Tata Steel when he jumped over someone and felt his right knee collapsing beneath him. Right then, he could have been forgiven for believing his whole world had collapsed as well.

“I dislocated my knee and tore every ligament, while there were lots of other nasty things as well. I suffered nerve damage because the knee actually came out and ripped all the endings at the back of it. So I don’t have feeling below the knee.

“It was a pretty extensive injury.

“On the pitch, I was looking at my leg, which appeared to be on the wrong way, and thinking: ‘I’m not going to play again.’ I knew it was over.”

Walsh wasn’t to know it, but that awful moment that would ultimately set the Ospreys academy player on an altogether different course which has seen him enjoy great success.

For he is now a Para discus and shot thrower who has represented Great Britain and won a bronze medal at the European Championships. He also hopes to figure for Wales at the Commonwealth Games paralympics this summer.

Oh, and he’s an aspiring artist whose work is being exhibited in an ‘Art Of The Athlete’ exhibition at the Zari Gallery in London.

Call that some bounceback.

Possibly, at his lowest ebb, Walsh might have read the quote from the author Roy T. Bennett, the one that contends: “Your hardest times often lead to the greatest moments of your life. Keep going. Tough situations often build strong people in the end.”

Or maybe he didn’t.

Anyway, so much has happened since that dreadful winter day more than seven years ago that the 26-year-old now says: “Sometimes, I almost forget I played rugby.”

Prompted, though, he can still relate the story, one he must have told many times about the key elements of the afternoon that saw his life change so radically — his final-quarter introduction to proceedings at the Tata Sports Ground in Port Talbot after a red card for Swansea, taking a pass in the seconds before his injury, the Whites leading comfortably at the time.

There followed a prolonged period of uncertainty, though, with the then youngster having to wait two years before it was decided his rugby career was over because of an injury that left him with no ability to move his right foot.

“To be fair, the Ospreys were brilliant with my rehab and trying to get me back,” he says.

“At no point did they ever give up on me.

“We even got me back to training at a pretty high level within a team.

“But then I saw a nerve specialist and he said: ‘Look, if the knee goes again as a result of the foot problem, the worst complication is that you could actually lose a leg.’

“I thought to myself: ‘What’s the point?’”

He continues: “I didn’t know what I would do. It wasn’t a great time.

“Playing rugby in Wales can lead to your entire identity becoming wrapped up with it, especially at the age of 18, when you haven’t done much else. It’s what people know you for.

“It’s tough. You almost feel you are not worthy for your family. That’s not how it should be but that’s how you do feel.

“I did some coaching and the Ospreys were good enough to give me a role, coaching for a bit. I was still trying to figure out what I could be, but I wasn’t done with sport as a competitor. Then one day one of the other coaches asked me the question: ‘Are you disabled?’

“I hadn’t even thought of that. Pretty much up to that point, I’d been trying to get back into rugby. No-one had ever had that conversation with me.

“I said: ‘I guess I am. I don’t really know.’

“They made contact with Disability Sport Wales and said they had someone who’s potentially able to qualify for paralympic games and classify. I just went down and had a go at different sports. It was brilliant to have something to strive towards and try to get better at, something like I’d had in rugby.

“I picked up the discus and the shot put and loved it; I’ve loved it ever since. Now I have a world record in the shot put and I’m a European bronze medalist in the discus and I’m a paralympian. And I’m hoping to win a medal at the Commonwealth Games for Wales.

“It’s been a pretty amazing journey so far; hopefully, there’s still better to come.”

The world record came in the F44 classification in Italy, thrown in 2019, two years after Walsh started his new life.

His art has also reached unexpected heights.

“I have always liked it.” he says.

“While I was at the Paralympics in Tokyo, I was just sketching just to fill in some time. I posted a few bits online and a lot of people said they were quite good. I have since put a bit more into it and become a bit more serious about developing my skills.

“So I’m actually exhibiting art in London. It’s hard to get your head around it, but I really enjoy it. It’s pretty cool and a great switch-off from the sport.”

Some of the artwork on show

For sure, rugby seems an entire lifetime ago for the Bishop Gore product.

But he says: “I think my enjoyment of the throwing is intensified by what I went through.

“It sounds funny, but I’m actually grateful for it in a way, because I get all these opportunities.

“I have to work hard, but I wake up every day loving what I do.

“I never wake up thinking: ‘Oh no, I have to go and do sport.’”

He adds: “If you’d said to the 15-year-old me you are going to represent Great Britain multiple times, I would have thought it could only have been in rugby.

“If you’d told an 18-year-old or 19-year-old me when I was injured and lying in bed, ‘it’s OK, you’re going to represent Wales in the Commonwealth Games and Great Britain at some point’, I would have thought that it wasn’t going to happen, that it’s a million miles away.

“Now I think how proud that boy who was injured would have been. That’s what it means to me.

“I’m really pleased the likes of Adam and Owen have gone on to do so well in rugby. Adam’s the same age as I am and we grew up together.

Adam Beard of Wales

“We’re still, mates. It goes without saying that he’s an awesome player.

“We don’t see each other so much these days as we’re doing different sports, but, yeah, I played at age-grade stuff alongside those guys. It was great at the time, but life can take you in different directions.” You can read more about Beard here.

Walsh’s big goal this summer is to win a medal for Wales.

Really, he should have one as well for his resilience and showing that no setback has to be final.


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