Vaughan de Groen

Anyone who’s been in this situation can recall their exact event, that precise moment when their lives changed forever, a noise like a dry stick snapping; the sound of their neck breaking. Mine was Saturday June 21st 2003 1.05pm.

It was a culmination of events. I was meant to be working, the on call electrician for the weekend, no time for rugby, but I couldn’t resist. I was the captain, had to show up, Thames were undefeated so far that season and would remain so. Yet here we were against the Ngatea ‘black dogs’ under the pump, under pressure. A penalty, followed by a quick tap, followed by a ruck I would never walk away from, a C4/C5 spinal injury, followed by a 3hr ambulance trip from Thames hospital to Waikato with the childhood warning my mother always told me ‘You’re not playing rugby, you’ll break your neck’ echoing around my scrambled head.

Why me? Wrong place, wrong time I’d keep telling myself in the years to follow. Life was good; recently married, beautiful 1 year old daughter, a new family home under construction, suddenly the dream was shattered. Five months in hospitals and the spinal unit was tuff on me, but even worse for them. A great family, friends and employers got us through, got us back home to where the real challenges began.

But we charged at it head first, first battles with ACC, relief through the support from the Rugby Foundation, several years of intensive rehab and a determined outlook of not letting my current abilities be my final. ‘You won’t be able to do that', 'that will be too hard for you’, I’ll show them I thought. And I did. With words of wisdom from experienced tetras and some fantastically supportive trainers, I got my independence in a manual wheelchair, regained my ability to drive, got myself an office job and retrained as an electrical estimator.

Those simple abilities changed my outlook entirely, so it didn’t matter when fickle friends and partner fell by the wayside. The loyal ones stuck around, old ones re-emerged and even better ones have since introduced themselves. Having the ability to come and go when you like and not being so reliant on help is a huge burden that’s been lifted… I always hated asking for help.

These days when I’m not working or supporting my daughter at a netball or swimming competition, you’ll find me still supporting the blue and black of Thames Rugby and Sports Club  from the side-lines and heavily involved off-field in the administration of the club as its Club Secretary and Golden Oldies team manager. A job made easier with accessible facilities provided through a Rugby Foundation grant.

So if you’re ever going past the club, call in, I’ll buy you a beer and introduce you to the locals.