Thanks to the support of his family, Louis Rees-Zammit has managed to handle his rapid rise to prominence superbly.
Aged 20 years and 93 days, and just 18 months into his pro career, the wing sensation became the youngest player to be called up by the British and Irish Lions in over 50 years when named by Warren Gatland in his touring party.
And now “Rees-Lightning”, as he is known for his exceptional pace, is all set to play a leading role for Wales in the Autumn Nations Series in the forthcoming games against South Africa, Fiji and Australia.
For as long as he has been a professional, Rees-Zammit has been talked about in exalted terms.
Delighted to announce I’ve become the official patron for @sportingmindsuk who provide free, professional, mental health support to UK athletes.— Louis Rees-Zammit ⚡️ (@LouisReesZammit) October 28, 2021
It’s a charity I’ve supported since 2019 and I’m proud to be able to strengthen my relationship with them! 🙌🏼 pic.twitter.com/Yf4638bg9y
During the Scotland game in this year’s Six Nations, Rees-Zammit scored twice on the pitch, causing his fanbase to skyrocket. That day, his Instagram figures climbed by 70,000, at a rate of almost 1,000 for every minute he was tearing up the Murrayfield turf.
It is a credit to him and his dad Joe, mum Maxine, and his brother and housemate Taylor, that the pressure of being in the spotlight has never got too much. But the Gloucester star knows that not everyone has the same support network to get them through any dark times.
Wanting to help young athletes like himself tackle these issues, Rees-Zammit has been working as an ambassador for the mental health charity, Sporting Minds UK, since its inception in November 2019, and earlier this month he was honoured to become their Patron.
“The good thing with Sporting Minds is it is not just professionals. If you are in Uni and you play sport and you’ve got mental health issues, we are there to support you. We’ve helped over 900 athletes so far," he told World Rugby.
“Most of the athletes now are under 21. People are addressing it at a young age because they’re aware mental health is just as important as physical health.
“I know a few boys in my team who have experienced mental health issues. There is a lot of pressure on sportspeople – selection and injuries … there are loads of things that can affect your health. Seeking help early is the best thing you can do.”
Founded by academy-level cricketer Callum Lea, Sporting Minds UK offers fully-funded, confidential, one-to-one mental health care.
It can take the form of formal counselling in-person or virtually, access to a health and wellbeing portal or a mobile phone app, and includes a confidential 24-hour helpline involving critical incident support.
While Rees-Zammit has taken everything that has come his way in his long stride, he recognises mental health issues can affect anyone, citing the seemingly indestructible Ben Stokes as a classic example.
And had the right person not been on the other end of the phone, i.e. his dad, Rees-Zammit wonders if he’d have achieved what he has in rugby..
For a homebody like Louis, moving across the Welsh-English border to Hartpury at the tender age of 16 was such a big step and in an interview with Rugby Journal, he admitted to “crying his eyes out” on his first night there.
His dad persuaded him to stick it out and, before very long, Rees-Zammit settled into his new surroundings.
“I am so close to my family, they’re literally by my side, 24/7, and are always there if I need help,” he said.
“For people at Uni and stuff that are away from their families for however long and may have some issues, we are there to help them
“That first day at Hartpury wasn’t great for me and I am very grateful to my dad who kept pushing me along. If I didn’t carry on I probably wouldn’t be where I am today.
“George North and all those high-profile athletes that I am playing with are also there to help as well so I have a great circle around me that I am very grateful for.”
Soon, the main thing on Rees-Zammit’s mind will be scoring tries for Wales as he bids to add to his impressive tally of five from nine caps.
With Rees-Zammit not available for this weekend’s All Blacks test due to his Premiership commitments, first-up for him is an encounter with world champions South Africa.
Rees-Zammit has never faced southern hemisphere opposition before as a Welsh player but his outing for the Lions against South Africa A in July, a match billed as “the fourth test”, gave him a fair idea of what to expect.
“We know South Africa are the best team in the world at the minute so it is definitely going to be a tough test.
“But as a squad, we kind of back ourselves and believe we can beat any team on our day, and hopefully we can get a win.”
Photo credit: Gingersnaps Photography/Sporting Minds UK