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'If you think about it like an iceberg, I only show you what I want you to see'

James Lowe is the latest player to lend his support to Rugby Players Ireland’s Tackle Your Feelings campaign.

A HAPPY-GO-LUCKY personality, a freewheeling rugby player. You’d be hard-pressed to find a chirpier character in sport than James Lowe, his attitude and outlook on rugby, and on life, remarkably infectious. 

It is these traits, in many ways, that make Lowe the player he is. A maverick, an entertainer, a straight shooter, a fan’s favourite. A world-class winger. But, behind it all –the smile, the energy, the endless jokes — there is James Lowe the person. Just like the rest of us. 

james-lowe James Lowe at the launch of the Tackle Your Feelings app. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

There is no doubt that what you see is what you get with Lowe and he most certainly plays as if he doesn’t have a worry in the world, but the reality is that it’s just not, well, reality. 

Last year, Lowe used his strong social media presence to raise awareness for men’s mental health through the Movember campaign and now the 27-year-old is the latest player to lend his support to Rugby Players Ireland’s Tackle Your Feelings initiative.

“I’m happiest most when I’m playing rugby,” Lowe says. “But I understand that I’m very, very lucky and on the flip side of that, there are a lot of things that go on behind the scenes in everyone’s life.

“If you think about it like an iceberg, I only show you what I want you to see. Everyone has stuff going on behind the scenes and under the surface, so I wanted to get on board and try and help other people so they can be proactive, learn and be grateful for everything good.”

Lowe’s journey from New Zealand to a Champions Cup winner with Leinster has not always been smooth, with the Nelson native previously opening up about his fight to overcome rheumatoid arthritis at the age of just 14.  

The former Chief now lives with the arthritic condition, which provides him with a daily reminder of the fragility of the human body, but through the years, he has learnt to turn that into a positive.

“Me getting arthritis when I was 14, that’s nothing compared to what some people go through on a daily basis,” Lowe continues. “I’m lucky to come out on the other side and still be able to play sport. At the end of the day, people are going through a lot worse than I am.

I’m fortunate now to have no real serious effects from it. I’m a little bit stiff today but I ran around on the astro for the last couple of days so that’s probably the one thing that affects me. But learning at that age about being resilient, being grateful and positive thinking has helped me now. I just had shoulder surgery but I didn’t look at it as a bad thing, I looked at it with a positive outlook. 

“My life experiences, your life experiences, we could shape them whatever way we want and perceive them whatever way. But I just know now being in this position won’t last forever. Being able to play rugby while I’m at my physical peak won’t last forever and in understanding that, I’m just really enjoying it at the moment. Life is very good.”

That’s not to say Lowe is oblivious to life’s problems. Having moved to the other side of the world with his girlfriend, Arnica, at the age of 25 to chase his dream with Leinster, he is enjoying the ride and experience of living in Dublin.

But being away from family and friends presents its own challenges and given he is in a sport that portrays its protagonists as invincible characters, Lowe has become comfortable with letting the world in and talking about his vulnerabilities.

“I talk to my friends and family back home and it’s like I’m living in a different universe over here,” he admits. “What they’ve seen of me back home to what I am over here, it’s not completely different but the challenges are there.

james-lowe Lowe is hoping to get back on the pitch with Leinster soon. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“Not having the safety net of family there. When times are tough going home to Mum and Dad to a cooked meal. Things like that. It’s all those little things. But we made this decision by ourselves and we’re strong enough now to look after ourselves. 

“And because we as rugby players run into each other for a living, we’re considered big, strong, tough men. There’s that perception of us being tough, but we’re making ourselves vulnerable.

“It’s important to show we still need to learn and be proactive to stay on top of things. Rugby is just such a small part to play in each of our lives and everyone is going through different things. Some of my best mates might be going through things they don’t want to tell us but it’s pretty impressive if you’re going to be vulnerable to someone. Like open up.”

Through the work of Rugby Players Ireland, in conjunction with Zurich, the Tackle Your Feelings campaign has broken down any remaining stigma within dressing rooms and allowed players to simply talk to each other.

The likes of Jack McGrath, Darren Cave and John Cooney have been involved previously and Lowe had no reservations in putting his face to the relaunch of the Tackle Your Feelings app, which provides rugby players and the public with the tools to develop coping skills as well as feature sections on relationships, confidence, sleep, self-care and relaxation. 

He continues: “We, the Leinster players, actually talked about it on one of our away trips. We sat down and we said we needed to know each other better than your mother knows you. It’s about having deep, meaningful conversations and actually engaging in people’s lives outside of rugby.

“That’s all part and parcel of it and I feel Leinster is in a very good spot at the moment and if problems are happening or things need to be talked about, we talk about them early before they’re bottled up and, especially in an environment like this, it can turn to poison so, so quickly. We’ve been proactive in Leinster about this.”

Lowe explains how he tried to use the disappointment of having shoulder surgery at the end of last season to focus on other things outside of rugby. 

“I think it’s just having perspective and being grateful. Like I could’ve seen my shoulder as the end of everything. I could’ve been moping around and I probably was a little bit because I was gutted. But I knew it was coming and it was just turning that and looking at all the positives that I can get from it.

james-lowe Lowe is hoping to help people 'Take Control' of their mental wellbeing. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“Now I look at other things in life and maybe put my time into other things. I’m trying to figure out what I want to do after rugby. Do I want to go study? I don’t think I’d ever be able to work in an office or anything so all these others, with the spare time, start rattling through your head.

“Rugby Players Ireland as a whole, they’re in your back pocket if you need them. They are always fighting in your corner, it’s been awesome.”

As for a return to action, Lowe is back on the training pitch with Leinster and while this weekend’s Pro14 opener against Benetton will come too soon for the winger, he is hoping to be back involved in the coming weeks.

“I first hurt my shoulder four years ago and I literally remember the tackle against Jordan Taufua of the Crusaders down in Christchurch.

I hurt it then, I rehabbed six weeks to get it back to a place where I can play and be happy and could do everything. Then gradually over time it just kept getting worse, kept getting niggles, torn bicep, and then it started dislocating at the front now.

“This here was the perfect opportunity. It was literally at the start of this year when I hurt it. I think it was when we were playing against the Cheetahs and I actually hit someone with my right shoulder and my left shoulder went dead and I was just like ‘what’s going on here?’

“This was the perfect time to get it sorted and I’m glad, it’s feeling awesome.”

Rugby Players Ireland and Zurich today relaunched the Tackle Your Feelings mental wellbeing app and website as part of a new phase of the campaign: #ImTakingControl. 

Leinster Rugby Player and campaign ambassador James Lowe was on hand to lend his support at the relaunch of Tackleyourfeelings.com and the TYF app, which is free to download through Apple and Google Play App stores.

Tackle Your Feelings aims to promote a proactive attitude towards mental health and provide people with the tools to ‘Take Control’ of their mental wellbeing. 

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About the author:

Ryan Bailey

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