15 Jun 2021

#TackleTheToughStuff: Shaun Kenny-Dowall

Hull Kingston Rovers captain Shaun Kenny-Dowall has had a glittering career in Rugby League – from winning an NRL premiership with Sydney Roosters, to representing his country and family at international level and making over 300 career appearances - SKD has reached the pinnacle of his profession.

But his rise to the summit of rugby league hasn’t been simple. He has overcome injury setbacks, recovered from his personal battles off the field and now captains a Hull KR side that are making tremendous progress in 2021.

“Early on I probably wasn’t the most professional. It was a bit different back when I started playing and it really took a toll on my body.

“I had a really tough two years where I had four bouts of groin surgery, bulging disks and my core and spine was completely out of alignment.

“That was a really tough period I had to overcome – for two years I couldn’t run properly.”

In hindsight, the adversity and challenges those injuries presented helped shape the player and person he is today.

“It was a big wake up call about how I needed to live my life and what it takes to prepare the best way you need to perform.

“It was really tough at the time, but it gave me a different perspective.”

As well as injury battles as a player, SKD has faced his own personal battles away from the sport. In 2015, he went through a highly publicised break up and was diagnosed with a mental illness, leading to him spending time in a mental health hospital.

“It took me two years of really solid work and getting the help I needed to get myself back to a positive state of mind where I’m at today.

“You learn a lot about yourself, and you build a lot of strength and character going through those times.

“It single-handedly changes the direction of your life when you go through these things. You take the lessons you need to be a better person.”

None of that would have been possible if he didn’t reach out for help. Although it’s not the easiest thing to do, it was ultimately the best decision he made.  

“There can be a bit of a stigma about going to a therapist, but you don’t realise how much you learn in these group sessions.

“Everyone could benefit from having those conversations to understand what makes you tick, how to overcome stresses in your life and have those ways to cope.

“Having those people to fall back on and chat with really does help. It builds your own strength and character.

“When you’re in group therapy and you’re speaking up you’re not just helping yourself - you’re also helping the people that are in there with you.

“I can’t speak highly enough about how much that played a part in getting me where I am today.”

Those sessions also helped him realise that he wasn’t alone. As isolated as mental health issues can make you feel, there are others who understand and care.

“When you’re in that state of mind you think you’re the only one who is having these feelings and emotions. But when you’re sitting there in a group and feeling vulnerable you realise, you’re not alone and when you share, you also learn.”

Hull KR have recently partnered with mental health charity Mind Hull & East Yorkshire (HEY). It’s a partnership that the club hopes will help inform supporters in the community about the mental health services the charity offer, and to normalise the conversation about mental health.

“If you’re struggling or you know someone that is, to be able to have those avenues where you feel like you can reach out for help is great. I think it’s a great partnership and one that we’re all proud of here at Rovers.

“It’s an integral part of the community and it’s such a wide-reaching issue in society, so if we can offer that little bit of support and help for people that need it and raise some awareness to guide people in the right direction, then we’re doing our job.”

And as someone who has experienced his own mental health battles, SKD recognises the importance of seeking help.

“Find your support network and the people that matter the most because they’re the ones that are going to support you through that time.

“Getting that professional help, having those conversations and being willing to be vulnerable and step outside your comfort zone and do the work that you know will help you and push your life in the right direction.

“It’s a scary place to admit you need help, but the benefits far outweigh the risks. Don’t be afraid to talk up because it will be the best thing that you ever do.”

It's ok to talk. You can join group sessions offered by Rugby League Cares with Offload and Tackle The Tough Stuff by clicking here.

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