Ex-rugby players to scale Mont Blanc in aid of mental health support in sport

Greg Bateman, Phil Dollman and Kai Horstmann. Credit: PA

Three former Exeter Chiefs are set to scale Mont Blanc to raise money for rugby’s leading mental health charity because emotional support was “non-existent” when they played the game.

Former teammates Greg Bateman, 34, Phil Dollman, 38, and Kai Horstmann, 41, will be flying out to the Alpine region on Wednesday 6 September where they will take on Gran Paradiso “to acclimatise”, before tackling the 15,777ft (4,809m) Mont Blanc around Monday 11 September.

The trio, who played professionally for Exeter Chiefs and crossed paths on the pitch between 2013 and 2015, have been fundraising for LooseHeadz, a rugby clothing brand dedicated to supporting the emotional needs of those involved in the sport.

They have raised more than £10,000 for the foundation so far, with the aim of ensuring “players, coaches and staff of the present and of the future have more resources than what we had”.

Having since retired from the sport, the three friends are also using the challenge to “get the same buzz” they felt during their careers on the pitch, saying their forthcoming venture will “take us well out of our comfort zone”.

The former Exeter Chiefs crossed paths on the pitch between 2013 and 2015 Credit: Rob Passmore/PA

“We want to put ourselves through this for this cause because we all believe in the fact that rugby is on its arse at the moment and needs some support,” Mr Bateman, the founder of craft beer brand People’s Captain, said.

“We want the players, coaches and staff of present and of the future to have more resources than what we had, and we’re delighted to support it.”

Mr Bateman, who is based in Monmouth, Wales, added: “The emotional needs of those people does need looking after – we just want to improve on what’s there and set people up for the future.”

Reflecting on their time in the sport, Mr Horstmann, from Exeter, said he “adored” playing professional rugby but there were “some massive low points in there”.

“It’s such an intense environment 24/7 – you’re under the spotlight on game day, a few results go wrong, contract talks, injury – all these play a big part in how you feel,” said Mr Horstmann, who works in sales and operations in commercial property.

The trio will be climbing Mont Blanc to raise funds for mental health charity LooseHeadz Credit: Rob Passmore/PA

“Sometimes it’s a pressure cooker and it takes hold of you.”

He added: “There was never the ability to offload, really.”

Mr Dollman, who works in sales for a med-tech company, said emotional support was “non-existent” and was “certainly not there when we were playing”.

“The encouraging thing for me is the pace at which it’s improved and the provisions are being put in there,” Mr Dollman, from Exeter, said.

“Starting to see more and more clubs having mental health practitioners is always a good thing, but I think the most pleasing thing for me is that people within the sport are now more aware of it.”

The money raised for LooseHeadz by their new venture will fund the practical resources to provide rugby players, coaches and staff with emotional support.

Mr Bateman said: “Raising awareness is fantastic and we all need to understand that this stuff happens to people, but we need to resource the action a bit more.

“My huge fear is that we raise awareness to a level so everybody is aware, but then we’ve got zero in the pot for the action, and what we do about it.”

The former Exeter Chiefs spoke of the lack of emotional support during their time playing professionally Credit: Rob Passmore/PA

Of their forthcoming challenge, Mr Bateman said the trio have had “a little bit of that rugby feeling back” during their training for climbing Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps.

“We’ve been our own little team, we’ve been catching up on how we’re doing, and how we’re training,” he said.

Mr Horstmann added: “Ultimately I wanted to do something that was just a fair challenge and taking us well out of our comfort zone, and do something that was properly going to test us.

“The beauty of what we did is that we were doing something that we love with our close mates, mates that you’d go to the trenches with.”

The three men have been working hard to train for the climb, but have found a completely different set of physical skills are needed from those used on the pitch.

The former teammates have had ‘a little bit of that rugby feeling back’ during their time training for the challenge Credit: Rob Passmore/PA

“None of us have ever done anything like this before,” Mr Bateman said.

“We know we need to be fit enough, but we don’t know how… we’re making it up as we go along.”

Mr Dollman said it is “quite a scary challenge” but “nothing is worth doing unless it’s hard”.

“It’s going to be exciting, it’s going to be a challenge we can really feel some achievement on,” he added.

“Rugby gave us that naturally, but I think we’re individuals who search for new things to give us that buzz.”

Mr Horstmann said the “beauty” of team sports is being able to “rely on other people’s energy when you’re at a low”.

“You always find yourself in those positions, so I’m lucky that I’ve got two teammates so that we can nudge each other through.”