After playing rugby through all the grades growing up, at the age of 19, I set off on my big OE, playing rugby in England and Scotland, running with the bulls in Spain and touring South Africa for the ‘95 Rugby World Cup. It was the time of my life.
I returned to New Zealand for Christmas of 1995 and some 3 months later I played my first game back with my old club. Unfortunately, it was also to be my last. It took only a split second as we engaged for the first scrum of the game; one prop pulled out, I thought I could still make it so I ducked my head. Wrong decision. I crushed the top of my head into the opposition's shoulder and snapped my neck at C5/C6. As one of my props held me up, I looked down at my body; although my brain was telling my legs were off to the left, my eyes told me they lay off to the right. At that point, I knew what had happened but the stark reality had yet to sink in.
Once arriving at Waikato Hospital, some good ol’ kiwi ingenuity was employed as they fused two vertebrae together using number eight wire! After ten days in Hamilton, I was flown to Burwood Hospital in Christchurch where I remained for six months. Thanks to the kind support of John and Trish Funnell, friends and family were also flown down to visit during my stay. Intense rehabilitation saw slight improvement but at the time I was discharged I was only able to move my right arm enough to use the controls of an electric wheelchair.
Because of the awesome support from family and friends, upon returning to Hamilton, I began setting goals to aid my journey forward. It took twelve months of training with Alistair Richardson at Les Mills gym to achieve my first goal of pushing a manual wheelchair. I had built up enough strength to push the chair over the lip between the lino and the carpet in my parent’s kitchen. Two years later I was offered the opportunity to return to Burwood for an operation to create tricep movement. By taking the tendons that ran from my knees to my feet and sewing one end to a working muscle in each shoulder and the other to each elbow they were able to give me enough strength to eventually achieve my ultimate goal: to drive my own car.
The operation came with a new set of challenges. I voluntarily underwent six weeks on a turning bed. Both arms were in casts and I looked as though I had been crucified; it just happened to be Easter so you can imagine the jokes I had thrown my way.
After the casts came off, I had braces on my arms, which they would adjust 10° each week until I could scratch my face again. Another entire year of my life dedicated to the seemingly simple goal of using hand controls.
Before my accident, I was a ‘hands on’ type of guy so as years passed and I started coping with life in a wheelchair, it was the loss of the use in my hands which continued to plague me. More recently in 2005, I decided it was worth yet another stay at Burwood in order to give me a ‘pinch grip’. Prior to the operation, I had absolutely no movement in either hand but after bringing down a working tendon from my forearm and tying it to my thumb, I am now able to pick up a piece of paper and even dip a chip without losing it!
Having surpassed my own expectations with respect to my physical rehabilitation, I turned my focus to academics. Funded by the Rugby Foundation, I was able to study at “Hands On’, a private computer IT training school which catered for my special needs. I completed both A+ and Network+ training and am now a qualified Computer Information Technologist.
The support from the Rugby Foundation didn’t stop there. Because they funded a wheelchair rugby chair, I was able to participate in the sport after rehabilitating long enough after my accident. I stayed involved with the sport for 5 years and it was source of much fun, learning and shared experiences with other quads.
Recently, the Rugby Foundation has assisted me greatly with the construction of our new home. Due to this support, I was able to adapt my home to suit my disability needs. My wife Julia and I live together in this beautiful home and we know it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the Rugby Foundation. I would like to personally thank the Rugby Foundation for their continued support. It is deeply appreciated.
It seems Julia and I have started a new chapter in life. Having met in 2001 and as I said, recently been married, it seems only a matter of time before we start a family and enjoy making many more memories together.
NZ Rugby Foundation
Sport Auckland House Level 4, Alexandra Park Function Centre, Gate B, Greenlane Road West, Epsom, Auckland