Saturday 18 November 2017

Luke Fitzgerald: 'Retiring from rugby was a huge blow. It's ok to feel sorry for yourself but you have to bounce back'

Luke Fitzgerald (29) is a retired rugby player. Last May, a serious neck injury called a halt to his career. He was a winger for Leinster and Ireland. He is currently finishing a business degree and doing media work. Born in Dublin, he lives in Clonskeagh

Luke Fitzgerald is looking forward to new opportunities following his retirement. Photo: Andres Poveda
Luke Fitzgerald is looking forward to new opportunities following his retirement. Photo: Andres Poveda

Ciara Dwyer

I'm usually awake before the alarm goes off at 6.45am. This goes back to when I first came onto the rugby team. I was 18, had just done my Leaving Cert, and I had a bit of momentum coming from schools rugby. It was a challenge for me to realise that this was a job. I was a bit tardy. On the team, if you are late, there are punishments. So I became punctual, and even ended up becoming paranoid about being late all the time.

Last May, I finished up playing rugby - I was on the Leinster team, and the Ireland team, when I was chosen. During a match against Connacht in the Pro12 Final, I had a bad neck injury. It was disappointing, and a bit of a shock to retire so soon. A lot of people play rugby until they are 34, and I was 28. I had a couple of serious injuries before. There were a few times that I wasn't sure that I'd make it back, but this time, it was too dangerous to continue playing.

With spine and nerve injuries, you are susceptible to loads of things. I had no feeling in the back of my shoulder or arm. Luckily everything has come back.

Having to retire was a huge blow. I enjoyed rugby, and I always wanted to be the best at it. I loved going into battle with my teammates. I still catch up with them, but during the summer, I tried to distance myself a little. I didn't want the transition from not being in a team environment to be too difficult.

Of course, there was a bit of a mourning period. It's OK to feel sorry for yourself, but it's not OK to let that drag on. You've got to get your head around it and bounce back. That's really important in life. I've always found it a great help to write things down. It gives you a bit of perspective and shows you the route back. It sounds weird, but I'm kind of grateful for the learning opportunity I got with that.

The challenge with rugby is that you don't get the same amount of money as a soccer player or golfer, so you've got to develop yourself very quickly alongside your rugby career. I'm a little underdeveloped in that respect. I was hoping to do my college work on the side, and have that finished by the time I retired. So I've a bit of catching up to do. I'm in the final year of a business degree, and I have to finish it next year.

I'm looking for an internship in the business world a few days a week. If I shadow some people, I can see what I'd like to do. Also, I'm doing some media work and punditry on the side. I'm involved in Yoplait's I Love My Age campaign. I'm 29 now, and I think it's a nice age. I get to reinvent myself when I'm still young. I'm excited about the opportunities in front of me. Some people tell me not to rush into anything and to keep my options open. I can see their point. But at the same time, I think that I'd want to get moving.

To be honest, at the moment, there is no great structure to my day. And I'd prefer more structure. In rugby, your life is almost militarised. They make it like that, and you rely on the routine every day. You don't have to make a lot of decisions. When you make the transition to the real world, it's different.

I get up early and go to the gym. I'm trying to keep any good habits from my rugby career that would suit an office lifestyle. I live in Clonskeagh. I bought a place there in 2010 because it was very close to training. At the moment, a friend from school is living with me. We both went to Blackrock College. He is studying to be a doctor, so he is up early, working very hard. You always try and surround yourself with high achievers if you can - rub shoulders with them and pick up a couple of good habits from them. I head down to Riverview Gym.

When I finished playing rugby, I was doing two sessions a day, simply because I had a bit of empty space at both ends of the day. I was trying to keep active and positive. I think if you go into a situation where you are lounging around and not doing much, bad habits form. Now, I'm a bit more normal and I just go once a day.

I always enjoyed training because you could see tangible results, and they helped you on the pitch. It's nice to feel healthy and strong. Sometimes I go to the gym with my girlfriend, Aisling. We've been going out since the summer. She has just finished a degree in communications. When I first stopped playing rugby, she said, 'You better get in there. You don't want to get fat'. I swapped the trainers for the girlfriend being harsh on me. Since I stopped playing, some parts of my body got a little smaller and others got a little bigger. My belly is a little bit untidier because I'm not doing as much running. But it's nice to relax a little bit. I love food, and I have a sweet tooth.

After the gym, I have a protein shake, and then, for breakfast, I have bacon, avocado and scrambled eggs. I try to keep it lean, and have good fats. Sometimes I'll relax and have a bowl of cereal, which is kind of nice. You'd avoid that sort of thing when you were playing rugby. It could be Shredded Wheat, and recently, I bought a box of Coco Pops. I didn't have them for 10 years, so that was me cutting loose.

For the past few months, I've spent a huge portion of time having meetings with people who have approached me to do different things. It has been both interesting and frustrating, because it's amazing how slow it takes to negotiate things in the business world. Things happen a lot quicker in a sporting environment.

In the evenings, I love going out for a feed. I know it's a bad spending habit, but I enjoy it. I love trying out new places. I like going to the cinema, and during the summer I was at a few music festivals. At night, I like to watch a good boxset before I go to sleep. I loved watching Narcos. Because of the injury, I have to sleep in a good position. I was always late to bed and early to rise. Now, I'm trying to go to bed earlier, in training for an office lifestyle.

Yoplait - I Love My Age. See Facebook.com/Yoplait-Ireland

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