SPORT, as we all know, can transform lives for the better, and a brilliant example of that is how rugby has helped turn around the life of the Hawick Youth’s second-row Will Ryan, from a chaotic existence to one where he as become a confident young man on the edge of adulthood.
His story starts not in the Borders but in Musselburgh, where he spent his early years in foster care after experiencing difficult circumstances within his birth family. He recalls that in his very early years there was no consistency in his life, saying: “I was in foster care since as long as I can remember. I was getting bounced around different foster carers until I found a stable home.”
It was the move to his final set of foster parents and his foster sister’s romantic involvement with a Hawick Harlequins rugby player that proved to be one of the rescue components. Will explains: “My sister started dating a guy from Hawick and moved to the town. Shortly afterwards, when I was about fifteen, my foster parents decided to follow her to Hawick. They had seen a house they really liked and moved here. But that was not the only reason for their trek to the Teviot.
“Back in Musselburgh, I had got in with a bad set and my life was going downhill,” he recalls, hinting strongly at a dark existence into which sadly a number of teenagers can slip. So rescuing Will from a potentially life-ruining situation in Musselburgh became another motivating factor in his foster parents’ decision to move.
Will admits that he initially didn’t like being in the Borders town. But a friendship with a local lad, who was into rugby, persuaded him to go along to a training session with Hawick Youth. “I enjoyed it, and, from then on, I never looked back”.
Rugby was not a new experience for Will as he had played the sport back in Musselburgh, taken to Stoneyhill by his foster father. “The problem was we didn’t have big numbers and often just ten or eleven boys turned up on a Saturday, which meant no games.”
Initially in Hawick, Will played for the under-16s before moving up an age-grade and then playing two seasons in the Borders Semi Junior League, absorbing, along the way, the almost unique culture of rugby within the town, which initially was a total revelation for him. “When I first moved to Hawick I didn’t know [the town] was that big on rugby but then I soon realised that here rugby was everything – which I love.”
The importance of rugby in the Borders town was reflected in the environment at Hawick Youth, where the culture reset so much of Will’s life. “There were so many good people round me and it just grew my confidence. I found new pals and rugby made me want to stay in Hawick.
“It gave me a lot of structure and gave me goals to stop doing what I had been doing at the time. If I hadn’t had this, I hate to think what I would have been doing now. But I love being in Hawick now. The people are so friendly. You can walk down the street and everyone says ‘Hi’.”
During his two seasons with Hawick Youth under-18s, Will has had opportunities to go on tours to Wales and Northern Ireland. “You certainly see a different side of people and I stress a better side of people on tour. It brings players together much more,” he offers.
Rugby at under-18 level may be coming to an end for Will but he is determined to continue his rugby career with the soon-to-be-revived Hawick Quins. “My sister’s boyfriend [Sam Bandeen] plays for the Quins so that’s why I want to play with them. I’ve played a game already for the Quins – at centre!”
As to Will’s preferred position on the rugby field, he thinks that back-row would be his choice. If Quins do not become a viable club next season then he is adamant he will join Hawick Linden, who play at the Volunteer Park, the home, also, of Hawick Youth.
Stability in his life, derived from rugby, has also helped Will’s working life in Hawick, where he is an apprentice mechanic, the manual side of which has helped him gain extra strength for his rugby. Will has also helped out with rugby coaching, taking part in sessions with youngsters at Trinity Primary School, one of the spheres of influence of the legendary Bill McLaren in his role as a peripatetic PE teacher.
In May, Will’s journey from the a dangerous tipping point to becoming a a responsible young adult will take an another testing step when he flies out to Wisconsin to work with Camp America over a two month period.
“It’s a camp for foster kids in the US. I’m going there as a counsellor. Maybe I’ll have a chance to teach a bit of rugby over there, although it’s not on the camp curriculum”.
Rugby may not be part of the camp programme but one thing is certain, Will Ryan will be taking with him a Hawick Youth jersey to fly the flag of the sport and the club that turned around his life.