After he was handed a top honour at the HITZ Awards, Ryan Cummings admits the programme is to thank for turning his life around.
Ryan, a member of the HITZ programme run by Leicester Tigers, was presented with the Community Impact Award by World Cup winner and Wooden Spoon lead ambassador Phil Vickery at the inaugural ceremony evening earlier this month.
HITZ is Premiership Rugby's multi award-winning programme that uses rugby to tackle some of the greatest challenges facing young people today – unemployment, crime and disillusionment.
Ryan said that he drifted after losing an apprenticeship with a carpentry firm but enrolling with HITZ was the beginning of a turnaround.
While part of the programme, he ran coaching sessions at local colleges and took the lead in organising a national HITZ touch rugby tournament before the London Double Header at Twickenham – earning him the coveted Community Impact Award.
“It was a bit of a shock really because I thought one of the other lads was going to win it but I’m thankful that they picked me to get the award,” he said.
“HITZ has definitely made me more confident – it has given me more drive and motivation to get things done.
“I was a bit lazy before and I didn’t really feel like I was worth anything – there were some days after I lost my apprenticeship with the carpentry firm that I would just stay up all night. But this gave me the drive to get up every morning – I wanted to work and wanted to do better.
“I wanted to make an impact with lots of different things throughout the community and it felt really good.
“I’d definitely say to someone who isn’t in work or in school to get along to their local HITZ programme. It will help them get back on track and to where they want to be.”
Vickery was a key cog in England’s famous 2003 Rugby World Cup triumph but says his own struggles to reach the pinnacle of the sport meant he was inspired by Ryan’s efforts.
“There were some tough times for me growing up and the only place I actually felt really happy was on a rugby field,” said Vickery.
“We talk about community, charity and giving and I think rugby is the one sport that is a giving sport. It’s a brilliant game and to see the work HITZ does is unbelievable.
“HITZ is leading the way with this kind of work – not waiting for something to go wrong but leading the way and pushing the boundaries.”
Ryan's award was supported by Wooden Spoon the children’s charity of rugby and Jai Purewal, the charity’s head of community investment, says Wooden Spoon could not be more proud of how far HITZ has come in such a short space of time.
“I think the beauty of HITZ is that we see young people at their lowest ebb when the HITZ officers go into the community and find these young people who are, for all intents and purposes, lost,” he said.
“But then we see them at every stage of their development until they are at events like this awards evening, thriving.
“The Community Impact Award was looking for that person that has gone above and beyond and really given back to society.
“I was delighted to see Ryan win it. He’s a really deserving winner and we wish him all the very best for the future.”
The award winning HITZ programme tackles some of the greatest challenges facing young people today – unemployment, crime and disillusionment. Delivered nationally by Premiership Rugby and funded by national partners Barclays, Comic Relief, Land Rover and Wooden Spoon, HITZ uses rugby to increase young people's resilience, self-reliance and confidence. It gives them the skills to get back into education, vocational training, apprenticeships and employment. Please visit hitzrugby.com to find out more.