When Kevin Larroyer stands in front of young rugby league players to talk about mental heath, he has a jaw-dropping level of personal experience to call on.
The French international was beaten by his mother and grew up in social services, before sport gave him an outlet that led to a professional career. But there, he had a Super League contract cancelled just days after buying a house and with a newborn baby to look after.
After earning a chance with Castleford Tigers, he was then handed the shattering news that his sister had taken her own life. Now 32, Larroyer is part of a group of players providing advice to youngsters as part of charity Movember’s ‘Ahead of the Game’ programme, delivered by player welfare charity Rugby League Cares.
Their work is featured on a documentary on Sky Sports on Friday, where Larroyer lays out his remarkable life story in detail. “As far as I can remember I always had mental health symptoms,” he explained. “I couldn’t really find a place, a home – I didn’t feel I was loved.
“My mum never really gave me any affection and that’s something I suffer with – I was always a liability for her. My mum used to beat me up quite often and I used to go to school with bruises and things like that. I used to say I’d just fallen over.
“But one day I had one or two teeth missing. I came back from school one night and my dad was there, my mum, and two people that I didn't know. They were telling me that tonight I wasn’t going to sleep at home.
“I was six, my little sister was three years old, and I had loads of question marks about why I was being taken away but my sister could stay with my mum and dad.
“I had to sleep in a bedroom with 12 others in bunk beds – there was no bedtime story, it was quiet and it’s dark. I remember at night, that was when I started crying.
“In those kind of places there is no place for showing emotion or feelings, you have to learn to grow a thick skin. Rugby has always been my exit door, a place I’ve felt valued.”
Even that brought its own shattering moments though, including being told his contract at Hull KR was no longer valid following their relegation in 2016. After training on his own, he earned a trial and subsequent deal at Castleford.
Larroyer said: “In my first week at Cas I, it was a new start and I was really motivated, and I received a call from home telling me that my sister had taken her own life. That was tough because a year before that, she tried, and my mistake was coming back and thinking she was fine.
“A year after that happened, and I felt like a bad big brother, because I hadn’t checked up on her. If I’d just asked her how she felt, maybe I would have been able to help her.
“My sister has been a big factor in becoming involved with ‘Ahead of the Game’, but also it was the fact that when I’ve been in a hole, people have been reaching out to me.
“Now, I’m feeling a lot better and it’s my duty to give back. Being a dad, I don’t want my son to experience even one percent of what I experienced as a child.
"But also I don’t want any other child to feel unloved and useless or not be acknowledged, and I want to help those kids build up their self-belief. Because if you know your own quality, when you have a setback you can be like ‘You know what, I can do it’.”
To learn more about Movember’s work in mental health or sign up to this year’s fundraising campaign visit: www.movember.com
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