Going the whole Hogg
When dreams or ambitions are “shattered” – whether in rugby or other walks of life – picking up the pieces can be challenging.
Faced with that scenario in the past, some would suffer in silence.
Graham Hogg, Scotland 7s cap, age-grade internationalist and a member of a distinguished rugby family in Hawick, knows the script only too well.
Later this year, Hogg, 32, will undertake a 600 miles plus cycle, Ride for Rugby, to raise awareness of mental health and the help that is available, under the umbrella of Make Minds Move, an organisation he has set up with another former professional rugby player, back-row forward Adam Clayton, who has also endured mental health difficulties.
Hogg’s younger brother is the Scotland captain, Stuart Hogg. His dad, John, was a classy full-back in the halcyon days of Hawick’s Green Machine in the 1970s and early 1980s and a quality, undemonstrative referee.
Graham Hogg, a product of Hawick High School, Borders U16 and U18 and Scotland age-grade sides, seemed destined to bring his talent as a midfield back/full-back to a higher stage.
Part of Scottish Rugby’s academy, he was awarded the John Macphail Scholarship in 2006 and honed his skills in club rugby in New Zealand.
Two years later he made his debut for Scotland 7s and went on to represent his country eight times in the abbreviated game, playing twice in the flagship Hong Kong tournament.
But serious injury intervened and the pressure that Hogg put on himself to return became almost over-whelming.
“When I look back on it now, I recognise that I was living in fear, really anxious the whole time.
“I used to do stuff that would hamper my recovery as I just wanted to be like (the player) I was beforehand.
“I realise now how bad that time was, how destructive it was. For the last ten years, I have been dogged by this and stuff that has happened off the back of it,” he explains.
He played in Italy for a while and for “G Force” in East Grinstead in Sussex but the realisation that he wasn’t going to fulfil his ambition of representing Scotland at the highest level of the game, tormented him.
On his return to Scotland he played at Hawick, coached at West of Scotland and then had a rugby development job and played at Greenock Wanderers, but his mental health was at a low ebb. He acknowledges, quietly, that, twice or thrice, he did contemplate suicide.
He sought help and Scottish Rugby’s Player Liaison Officer, Stuart Dow, a pivotal figure in the union’s Rugby 4 Life Programme and charity, the Murrayfield Injured Players Foundation, was on hand.
“Stuart was outstanding with me. We still chat. I will be forever grateful to him and his time.
“I was always looking for somebody else to give me the answer. ‘Try this, do that’. Through speaking to Stuart and mental health professionals, the big conclusion I came to, was that it’s up to yourself.
“Nobody chooses by any stretch of the imagination to go through something like this, but I found you can choose how you get out of it,” he said.
With his friend from East Grinstead, Adam Clayton, Hogg set up Make Minds Move. “Let’s be clear, we’re not health professionals. We’re guys who’ve played sport and had our challenges. We will chat with people. We will have conversations with them, if they want, and can point people in the right direction.
“It can start with a simple ‘How’re you doing?’. We can offer our experiences and insight.”
As a means of thanking those who have helped him and heightening awareness of Make Minds Move and removing any remaining stigma around mental health, Graham and Adam are to undertake a gruelling, five-day, 639 miles Ride for Rugby in the spring.
As part of preparations, Hogg is encouraging anyone from the rugby community who would like to take part in the ride – “we’re looking for around a dozen folk who would do the whole distance” – to get in touch.
They will leave Sandy Park in Exeter – home club of younger brother Stuart – on 26 May. Their precise route is being finalised and they are scheduled to reach BT Murrayfield on Saturday 30 May, in time for the final leg of the 1872 Cup between Edinburgh Rugby and Glasgow Warriors.
Hogg will be cycling to raise funds for the Murrayfield Injured Players Foundation, in gratitude for its support.
You can find out more about the ride and how you can help at www.makemindsmove.com.