AAR-UK is thrilled to announce Craig Gillies as the Charity Ambassador.
Craig, 37, is a former English Rugby Union Player. He enjoyed a 16 year career as a professional, only retiring form his final club, Worcester Warriors, in 2013 after making an incredible 288 appearances during his loyal 11 years with the club.
Jayne Waddell was privileged to interview the rugby legend when he accepted his role as AAR-UK Charity Ambassador.
Craig’s early career began with Richmond, London, at the age of 21, before he joined Llanelli Scarlets in Wales, at the age of 24. It was during his time at Llanelli Scarlets that Alopecia Areata struck – as a small patch in his moustache area. Over the course of several months these patches progressed to his beard, legs, arms and torso, until eventually alopecia presented itself on his scalp.
In the New Year of 2003, whilst playing for Worcester Warriors, Craig’s alopecia was in full swing, Craig told a story of himself, and a group of his team mates shaving their hair off at a New Year Celebration!
“A lot of the lads were just telling me to shave my remaining, patchy hair off, and it was good to have that support; it reinforced that the they had acknowledged it, were accepting and at the end of the day – it was superficial, I was still the same person despite the change in appearance. I didn’t like losing my hair, the process or the way it looked, and I often wondered why it was happening to me, but, I guess a part of me just put a brave face on it”
Craig Gillies towers above most mere mortals at a whopping 6’8″ tall and cuts a pretty mean figure on the rugby pitch –
“To be honest, my alopecia probably did me no harm at all on the playing field, being 6’8″ and having the appearance of a shaven head was probably a more intimidating look!”
During the interview Craig went on to speak of how alopecia has affected his life.
“Alopecia has been kind of bitter sweet for me. It gave me a certain edge, in terms of appearance, on the playing field, and now, making my career transition from player into the business world it has also had it’s positives. I have a certain trademark look which is beneficial, alopecia has made me recognisable….. unforgettable” – he jokes …..”but I can never forget what I used to look like! and to this day I still see myself as that person. Ironically before alopecia struck, it was my dark hair which was my then distinguishing feature.”
For a person with alopecia, the psychological aspect, can be one of the most challenging things. Craig spoke of how he became unrecognisable to some of his friends.
“Alopecia changed how I looked so dramatically, even friends found it hard to recognise me, particularly if they had not seen me for a while. You only need to look at the before and after photographs to see how much it changed my appearance. That part of this disease or condition is what can be so harmful, the psychological side of how we perceive ourselves.”
When I asked Craig whether alopecia has taught him anything he replied:-
“Yes – its definitely taught me some lessons. There are things in life that are going to happen – no matter what! Things which you will have absolutely no control over. What I have learned is – that YOU can control your reaction and how you let these things influence or affect you and your life. Control the controllable, don’t waste time or energy on the things that are out of your control. This has a direct bearing on the quality and happiness of your life.”
It is apparent whilst talking with Craig that this type of attitude has taken him to the highs of his professional career and will continue taking him to new highs. Whether this strength and depth of character was present before developing alopecia is one to be considered, however it is obvious it is a huge part of his grounded, focused and determined nature.
Craig is father to Ossian and Niamh. They still live in Worcester, where Craig now runs his own successful business, as a coach, mentor and health advocate.
Craig has been extremely busy since his retirement, where he hit the ground running working with a world renowned company, in the health and wellbeing market , Forever Living and its range of natural health products.
Speaking of his new career Craig said,
“Being a professional sports person – A combination of diet and training were imperative in keeping myself in peak physical fitness. Forever Livings natural products helped me greatly throughout the last 5 years of my playing career, both in terms of general health and wellbeing and also from a sporting perspective.
Setting up my own business in this area was a natural progression for me; one which I am extremely passionate about. Having an autoimmune disease makes me doubly aware of keeping fit and healthy and it is a lifestyle I take great pleasure in promoting and passing on to others, including my young family.”
We are so delighted to have Craig Gillies as our ambassador as he is everything an inspirational figure can be.
Craig is very passionate about research, and does still ask himself – why alopecia happened to him, and why his immune system turned on his own body in this way, as do most people with the disease.
“Research into autoimmune disease is so important, now and for our future generations. When Jayne asked me if I would become an Ambassador for AAR UK, I was extremely humbled, and I gladly agreed. If I can use my own experience of Alopecia to help raise awareness or funds for AAR UK and its support and research, or, I can help others with Alopecia, in any way, I am more than willing to do so. I am really looking forward to working with the charity in the future.”
Craig finishes by telling me something I hear a lot of people with alopecia say,
“Occasionally I have a vivid dream of having a full head of hair again”…..
Only with research can this ever be a possibility.
You can follow Craig Gillies on Twitter @craiggillies5
You can also find the charity on facebook: Autoimmune Alopecia Research UK and Twitter @AAR_UK