Follow the journey of Dyneal Fessal. By Ali Stokes
Sevens World Cup: From Reality TV To Jamaican Rugby Star
We all cherish tales of athletes rising from grass-roots to international stardom. But few stories stray as far from the trodden path as that of current Jamaica Sevens international, Dyneal Fessal.
Fessal has the type of infectious, bubbly attitude that could whip up a frenzy from even the most solemn of crowds. He has trained under Olympic gold medal winners, starred in the hit ITV series Take Me Out and will take his bow at the Sevens Rugby World Cup later this week.
The 26-year-old is due to fly out to San Francisco later today with the aim of starting the biggest tournament of his rugby career with a bang. Qualifying for Jamaica through his grandmother, Fessal spent the majority of his sporting upbringing in America, after heading across the Atlantic Ocean at the age of ten.
“I was born in England but my parents decided to start their own business in America,” Fessal tells Rugby World. “I wasn’t going to say no to basically living right next to Disney World! It’s weird how things have worked out, I wouldn’t have even thought I’d be in this sort of position now. Never.”
Now 26 and studying for his masters in sports psychology at Brunel University, the Jamaican prop/centre did not take to rugby until he was 19, having spent the previous few years being trained as a 400-metre runner by former 1992 Olympic gold medal winner, Dennis Mitchell. Fessal decided not to pursue athletics once he returned to England, concerned that without the presence of a coach of Mitchell’s quality, he would struggle to make it to the top of the sport.
After signing up for a sports science course at Warwickshire College, Fessal decided to make his transition to an immersive team game. At 6ft 5in, 116kg and with the pace of a trained sprinter, the teenage Fessal made for an imposing presence on the wing and was shortly picked up on as an emerging talent, fast-tracked to the county set-up with less than a season under his belt.
However, after a few seasons at Henley Hawks, he fell out of love for the 15-man game and was introduced to the seven-man code.
“I joined when they (Henley) were relegated to National Two.” He says. “I think that’s around the time I stopped enjoying playing 15s. Then the coach asked if I had tried sevens, and ever since then, I can’t not play it. I just love playing sevens.
“I started playing properly with Apache Sevens, in Maidenhead,” he continues. “The coach there, Adam Hurst, is a phenomenal coach. He knows what he’s talking about and for where I was at the time with my rugby, he knew what to say and how to push me to get the best out of me. I think that’s where it really started to pick up.
“I still play for them whenever I’m not playing for Jamaica. I love that club, it’s amazing. I just have the best fun.”
After impressing during his time under Hurst, Fessal was put forward for a spot in the England Academy set-up, but was overlooked.
“It all happened really fast.” Fessal explains. “Last year was probably my best season playing sevens and my coach (Hurst) wanted to put me forward for the England Academy. From there, I think they might have been looking for someone else, someone younger. I’m 26 now but I was 25 at the time,” he continued, “From there, I got in touch with Wayne Foncette, who’s in charge of Racing Sevens. He had connections with the Jamaican Head Coach. From there it was just a bit mad.”
Fessal was thrust into the national set-up, linking up with the UK- and Jamaica-based playing staff during training camps and tournaments. However, this was not the first time he had appeared in front of thousands of keenly observant viewers. During his time at college, Fessal was a contestant on ITV’s Take Me Out.
“A friend at college brought it up” Fessal says. “You know when you’re young and you think: ‘whatever, just do it’? I put that down to life experience. One big experience.”
Winning over the hearts of contestants and fans alike with a showbiz smile, American accent and salsa dancing skills, he went on to feature on various ‘After The Show’ programmes before parting ways with the hit TV programme and focusing on his education and rugby career.
The masters student now has his heart set on working with young players within rugby, providing them with the support required to deal with the emotional stresses of high-level sports.
“I saw what the pressures of sports did to me along the way,” Fessal tells us. “There are others out there that went through the same thing. They don’t have that same support. It would be great to help them.”
In addition to coaches Hurst and Foncette, Fessal credits his late grandmother, Adeline Campbell, for his path into the Jamaican set-up, having fully immersed him in his Jamaican heritage during his first ten years in England.
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Fessal heads to San Francisco keen to play his rugby for the sheer joy of the game after experiencing first hand the kind of stresses that pressure to perform can exert, ready to embrace the next set of opportunities along the way.