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The rugby star returned on Tuesday from the tough 180-mile cycle from London to Paris cycle alongside ex-captain John Hart and twenty nine London Wasps fans, who have together raised over £35,000 for Mind.
Ali played for London Wasps for eight years and was one of the top try scorers in the A team, helping them to achieve two Heineken cups, three Zurich Premiership cups, and a range of Premiership titles. After joining the Newport Gwent Dragons, he faced early retirement after severing a tendon and damaging ligaments in his wrist, and undergoing a total knee reconstruction when doctors found a tumour behind his kneecap.
Ali has said this was undoubtedly the lowest point in his life and career: “Going from being a rugby player and playing a sport I’ve loved for the majority of my life to laying on my back unable to walk made me feel very depressed and that’s when my thoughts were at their darkest. I was completely stuck and I didn’t know where to turn.
“My teammates were very supportive but I should have spoken to someone sooner about my mental health instead of just putting on a tough front, because things got worse and worse and I didn’t know much about what was happening to me. Sadly as a man in a competitive industry you’re expected to be very strong in different ways and these kinds of issues are just not discussed. It’s great that we’re seeing more rugby players, like Duncan Bell, and sportsmen generally speaking out about their mental health problems, so I wanted to join them and open up about my experiences to show men that it’s OK to speak out.
“I did have a very good support network of family and friends around me and if it were not for my parents Errol and Lurline McKenzie, wife Jodie and my children Chay and Rosa I would have gone downhill very fast. If you don’t have those networks it’s so important to have charities like Mind to provide information and advice for people like me. That’s why I’m so pleased to have tackled the London to Paris challenge with Wasps fans to raise awareness and funds so the charity can support more people.”
Kathleen Miles, Director of Fundraising for Mind said:
“We want to say a huge well done to Ali, John and the team of dedicated Wasps fans for taking on such a huge challenge and raising so much money for Mind. Every penny will help us to support the one in four people affected by mental health problems each year by providing information and advice and campaigning for their rights.
“It’s also fantastic that Ali has decided to speak out about his own experiences, as we know that, according to the New Zealand Rugby Players’ Association, one in three rugby players will experience depression, anxiety or stress once they retire from the game. Hopefully his story will raise awareness of the impact of mental health problems in rugby and inspire other men to speak out before things become too difficult to manage.”