Billy Guyton reflects on his career at Trafalgar Park after retiring at the age of 28 due to concussion issues. Photo: Jonty Dine.

Head knocks force Tasman Mako Billy Guyton to retire

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It was a case of family over footy for Billy Guyton.

When the Tasman Mako veteran found himself unable to play with his daughter due to concussion symptoms, he knew it was time to hang up the boots.

The 28-year-old says when he was sleeping for most of the day while taking care of his two-and-a-half-year-old girl Uri, it was a sign that it was time to retire.

“Life after rugby has started to become a lot more important now, which was my main reason for leaving the game,” Billy says.

“It was a bloody tough decision, I still don’t like that I have had to make it but I know it is the best thing for my health and family.”

Billy says he had been contemplating retirement for a month before he officially announced it following his latest setback.

“I got back into Mako training and was going well, I was planning on being back for the Taranaki game (September 14) and then my contact training the next day was a bad one, I had headaches for the whole day and my fatigue levels had bumped up.”

He says he started asking himself ‘when will the next one happen, and will I be able to do all those things I want to do with my family?’

Billy sought advice from former players who had suffered head knocks.

“They were finding it tough later in life which made it a lot easier to step away. My daughter is at that age where she is wanting to explore everything, and you have got to be onto it.”

He says there would be a number of everyday activities that would trigger his concussion symptoms.

“Watching TV would bring on headaches, doing too many tasks, loud noises, some days I would need noise-cancelling headphones or I would feel nauseous and have blurry or double vision, it was not very fun.”

Billy’s latest head knock came during a club game for Waimea Old Boys.
“I was going into a ruck and the side of my head caught someone’s knee on the way down.”

Billy brushed it off as just a bump.

“I carried on playing then with ten minutes to go I felt really off the game, I didn’t want to be out there. I finished the game and straight after my head just started pounding, it was excruciating.”

Billy sought the advice of former Mako captain and current defensive coach, Shane Christie, who also retired due to head knocks.

“We have been good mates for years, I talked to him about it and, once he heard my reasons, he felt it was the right choice.”

Billy says it was a bittersweet moment calling curtains on his career.

“There was a lot of emotion, but it gave me a good chance to reflect on what I had done so there was a sense of pride.”

He says while it is hard sitting on the sidelines, he is revelling in the success of the Mako who currently sit on top of the Mitre 10 Cup premiership table.

He says winning the championship in 2013 with the Mako was a career highlight, as was winning the Heartland Championship with North Otago in 2010.

The live-wire scrumhalf played for three Super Rugby franchises but says the proudest moment for his family was pulling on the black fern.

“Becoming a Maori All Black was awesome and a very proud moment for my family.”

Looking ahead at life after footy, Billy says he wants to create a rugby development academy.

He says he also wants to work around the psychological aspect of the game.

Billy battled bi-polar throughout his career, a fight that has inspired him to help other players struggling with mental illness.

He says not knowing what he was dealing with made his journey all the more difficult.

“I knew I had something wrong when I was with North Otago, but I thought it was more in that depression/anxiety area, just because I didn’t understand.”

Billy says this greatly effected his game.

“All the self-doubt creeps in, you tell yourself other reasons for why you aren’t getting picked.”

He says he would struggle outside the rugby environment and without routine would slip into bad habits.

“I put on and dropped weight for no reason which was a problem in Super Rugby environments, I was either too heavy or too light.”

Billy says after finally seeking the right help and medication, he says he was looking forward to a season without self-doubt.

While that didn’t pan out how he would have liked, Billy still has a lifetime with his family to look forward to.

“That’s is what’s most important.”