- Alex Breading was named as one of three 2018 Mitsubishi Motors Volunteers of the Year
- Find out more about the Mitsubishi Volunteer Recognition Programme
A life-changing injury meant Alex Breading had to step away from rugby at the age of 29. Seven years later and fully recovered, he returned to the sport as a volunteer having been inspired to change the life of his eldest son. This is his story, told by him.
"The truth is, I probably wasn’t suited to any sport in particular"
Canvey Island is a tiny place. It’s separated from Essex by water and is only seven square miles but the rugby club has been going strong for decades.
My brothers, Jamie and John, played rugby from a young age but it wasn’t until I was 21 that I went along to the club.
I started like a lot of people do, in the third team and on the wing.
Eventually I grew into a 17-stone number eight. I captained the first team and was playing alongside my two brothers, that was a really special time for me.
I remember the moment the accident happened. I picked up the ball and ran towards their fly half, expecting to knock him over. But it didn’t happen. My neck went into spasm and it turned out I had broken a bone at the top of my spine.
It took me five years to recover properly. I’m 38 now and I’m free of any pain but that injury completely changed my life.
"To have such a big part of my life taken away was really painful"
I had to step away from the club after the injury and in the years that followed I became a conditioning coach for professional boxers. It was an amazing experience but I missed the rugby club in those years.
A couple of years ago it became clear that my eldest son George was struggling. He was facing challenges with social interaction and communication, he was withdrawing into himself.
One day in the car he asked me, ‘Dad, why can’t I play rugby at your old club?’
That question changed everything really. At the time Canvey Island didn’t have any youth setup but I was determined to get it started.
I wanted to do it for my son, but also for me. I missed the club, the culture and the people. It felt like the right time for us to go back.
Starting something from nothing was difficult, in our first session in October 2016 only seven kids turned up.
I was trying everything to grow it. I posted on Facebook about how much rugby had given me, how much I missed it and how the sport could benefit children struggling with social interaction. It got an amazing response.
Slowly but surely we got bigger and bigger. I was handing out flyers all over the island and alongside all the other volunteers we put all our time and effort into giving kids the chance to play this great sport.
That was two years ago and its mad to think how far we’ve come. On Sunday there were 140 kids all under the age of 13 training at Canvey.
Seeing how far my son has come is unbelievable too. If you compare his personality now to where he was a few years ago, it is amazing. It’s something about the values of rugby that does that, it is a family.
Both my brothers are coaching with me now and my wife runs the club shop. My parents are involved too.
I think the thing I’ve learned is the game’s not over when you’ve finished playing. Actually, I think I’ve got more from volunteering and coaching than I ever did from playing.
Now I just want to carry on giving back to the club and do justice to this amazing game.
England Rugby and Mitsubishi Motors have developed the Mitsubishi Motors Volunteer Recognition Programme to give the rugby community the opportunity to recognise and reward the volunteers who are the heart of our sport.
Alex was one of three winners this year alongside Elliot Fortey from Longlevens RFC and Claire Maccarron from Warminister RFC.