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  1. ITV Report

Dyslexia and me: Rugby star Byrne on life with the learning difficulty

Lee Byrne, once described as one of the greatest full backs ever to play for Wales, experienced many challenges on the rugby pitch in over a decade playing the game.

Lee Byrne was diagnosed with Dyslexia four years ago.

But off the field, the 35-year-old has been dealing with a much more personal challenge in the form of dyslexia.

Now, the former British and Irish Lion has spoken out for the first time about how the learning difficulty has shaped his life and career.

Lee says he found learning at school incredibly difficult, before leaving at 15. Having decided he must be "a stupid kid," Byrne says playing rugby proved to be his saviour.

I did an apprenticeship as a carpenter because I left school with no qualifications and working away in London was the only choice I had for a job. So I had to give up rugby from the age of about 16. Then I came back and thought I could really give this a go, thinking, 'I have got a talent and it's the only way really that I can make something good of my life'. So I did give it a go and, fortunately, it paid off.

– Lee Byrne, former Wales international

Lee explains that as a player, he struggled to learn the game moves and to pass concussion memory tests. Wanting to hide his reading and writing problems from coaches and players, it wasn't until his thirties when he was at French club Clermont Auvergne and was expected to learn the language, that things came to a head.

There were a couple of times where I would go out and the French players would say I wasn’t picking up French very easily. I remember one of the players saying I was lazy and I wasn’t learning. Obviously there was a reason because of my dyslexia, so that upset me a little bit.

– Lee Byrne, former Wales international

Finally, after being urged by his wife and ITV Wales presenter Andrea Byrne to undertake a dyslexia test, he was at last given some answers.

Lee found that despite some complications that dyslexia brought, there were aspects of the condition which actually helped him on the rugby pitch.

You would go on a field with 20 plays as a backline and I would be more worried about remembering where I would have to stand than worrying about the game. But I could see space before it happened - quicker than anybody else - so in a way I suppose it was a gift for me.

– Lee Byrne, former Wales international

Now retired from playing, Lee is plotting his future path. In the meantime, he's touring schools, encouraging children not to hide their learning difficulties and inspiring them with his story of possibility.

For more on Lee' story, watch Wales This Week: Dyslexia and Me. Tonight, 8pm on ITV Cymru Wales.

Lee is now encouraging youngsters not to hide their learning difficulties.