By Nathan Worthington
A FORMER Rangers player says touch rugby and tattoos have helped him turn his life around after he became one of the youngest people in the world to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s. 29 year old Shaun Slicker admits he’d almost become a ‘recluse’ as he tried to come to terms with the condition at the aged of 23.
A prop forward, Shaun was playing in a second team match when he first noticed something was wrong. His hand wouldn’t stop shaking. Two weeks later, in May 2009, doctors told him the diagnosis.
“I went from training twice a week and playing on the weekend to suddenly nothing – it was a major shock to the system.” Shaun says.
The sudden realisation that he wouldn’t play the sport he was so passionate about again made it impossible for Shaun to watch a game for a while. He’d come through the Rangers ranks with Matt Bottom, Adam Kirwan and Danny Attersall, coached by Graham Tibbott Snr and Paddy Kirwan among others.
“I didn’t go to watch a match for nearly two years,” he explains. “I just wanted to be on the pitch. I was really depressed at one point, and then the 30 hours challenge came up.”
The 30 hours challenge was an attempt at setting a new world record for the longest ever game of touch rugby league, to raise money for the new Rangers clubhouse. It took place over the August Bank holiday last year with Shaun was one of the first to volunteer, playing his part as the team managed to keep a game going for 30 hours, 30 minutes and 30 seconds none stop – and set a new world record.
Since the event, Shaun’s been back playing touch rugby regularly with Saddleworth’s past players, and the transition from full contact to touch has been relatively smooth as he lost weight and got his enthusiasm for fitness back.
“It’s good, we all have a good laugh. It’s touch but if you run at any of the lads they’ll still put you on your backside!” he jokes. “It keeps me playing the game and being with the past players has made me feel part of it even with my condition so my blood will always be black and white”.
It’s instantly noticeable that rugby isn’t Shaun’s only outlet, however. He finds comfort in being tattooed. With over 75% of his body covered in ink and more soon to come, he uses his tattoos to raise awareness and money for Parkinson’s and various charities.
“I was sat in the house, staring at the same four walls, for 18 months. I turned into a recluse. One day I just decided to book a tattoo to get me out of the house.” Shaun explains.
“As soon as I actually went and got the tattoo I found out that along with rugby, this was my happy place. Getting tattooed turned into my medication, and a lifestyle. Now I get one every other Thursday.”
His tattoos and unique story have gained him a fair bit of media attention, as he’s been featured in newspapers like the Mirror and the Daily Mail, as well as appearing on the radio and a Channel 5 TV show. Shaun was filmed watching Rangers with his children for a documentary on tattoos which airs this autumn. He even become an alternative model on the side.
“A woman that I knew told me that I should try modelling after I posted a few pictures on Facebook, and long story short I got asked to model for someone who wanted to add a bit of colour to their portfolio” Shaun says.
“The next thing I know and the pictures she took got featured in an American tattoo magazine. All the money I get from it goes to various Parkinson’s charities.”
Shaun is also an ambassador for ADAPT – a charity that promotes the benefits of exercise and sports for people that have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and gives talks on the disease and how important staying active is.
Things may not have turned out quite the way Shaun expected they would but there are a few certainties that he holds onto.
“Rugby, tattoos and my kids are the main three things in my life,” he says, “They keep me waking up in the morning and have helped me not let Parkinson’s beat me”.