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A COFFIN DODGERS (Blog) 1 of 13

1. 6th December 2003 a day that changed a life. My Life

Northwich Rugby, Injured Players Foundation, Mental Health & Northwich Superstars.

I’d been an active sportsman from childhood playing football age 7 for Castle cub scouts. Football, continued through my teens both Saturday and Sunday, before discovering rugby union playing for Northwich Rugby Club aged 18 until the day it ceased four days prior to turning 44. It was during a local first team derby game Warrington v Northwich a scrum failed to engage correctly resulting in a catastrophic spinal injury leaving me level C3-4 tetraplegic.

A night of severe pain in Warrington General with ever increasing weights being suspended from a metal halo, screwed to my head to help relieve the dislocation, prior to transfer to Southport Spinal Unit, where for 3 months I lay incapacitated with the metal frame and body support firmly attached also ventilated by tracheostomy. After 2 months a self-induced twitch occurred in my right thumb, quickly followed by the removal of my breathing tube. I was on the road to a recovery.

I will always be indebted to the Northwich community and especially Andy Naylor who rallied together raising vital funds to purchase specialist equipment and offering emotional support to my family. Hospitalised for 11 months, I was eventually discharged and undertook a period of rehabilitation prior to moving into adapted accommodation.

I always had a positive mental attitude regards my injury and “Life is not the same as it was but a hell of a lot better than it could have been”. I have a very good quality of life and a level of independence endorsed by support of carers and extended family and friends, both at home and abroad. The RFU Injured Players Foundation have been extremely supportive in assisting purchase of an adaptive vehicle and wheelchair which has allowed opportunity to travel around mainland Europe, favourite destination being Slovakia.

Without doubt the early support of the Northwich community and the ongoing commitment given by the RFUIPF has been a tremendous positive and has a large influence on why I remain involved with the sport rugby union. As a volunteer at Northwich RUFC I can give something back because it’s only when you are involved in a club that you understand the amazing difference they make.

Pre injury I assisted Dave Johnson coaching a squad of under 18’s colts, a team that included my son Chris, none of these players went on to established a regular selection at Northwich 1st team level but many went on to play senior rugby. A few, hopping over the fence to play 1st XV for Winnington Park. Prior to that Ian Dale and I coached a number of junior squads that included both our younger sons Richard and Paul. Richard Dale now a stalwart of Northwich 1st.
For various reasons (nothing to do with my injury), neither of my sons played senior rugby

Keeping physically active within the confines of a power wheelchair is challenging but achievable (within limits) and staying mentally active is as if not more important and this is where a volunteering role can be so interesting and rewarding. I take a lead role in communicating across the club via our various social media; my one finger typing has become quite proficient. Since my injury I have become more aware of mental health issues, and only recently top sportsmen Sam Warburton, James Haskell, Israel Dagg have openly covered the physical and mental health impact of the modern game and it has received plenty of positive feedback on social media. We are pushing open the door in raising an issue. But raise it we must and not just at the elite level. The traditional stiff upper lip and “I’ll be alright” attitude is being challenged like never before and our own Northwich Rugby Superstars program has been developed to help tackle children’s physical fitness and mental health.

Mental health problems affect about 1 in 10 children and young people. Alarmingly, however, 70% of children and young people who experience a mental health problem have not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age. The emotional wellbeing of children is just as important as their physical health. Good mental health allows children and young people to develop the resilience to cope with whatever life throws at them and grow into well-rounded, healthy adults.

Coincidence or natural progression?

With this in mind and to “tackle” the issue in our local community a new format was developed utilising rugby core values, where greater participation-rewards-fun and involvement encourages more children & families to join in. The format is unique to rugby and differentiates Northwich RUFCs rugby experience from other local clubs.

Learning to lose is as valuable a life lesson as learning to win in sport and it’s not just the youngest who struggle with managing their emotions when not selected or are used as a regular replacement, those who do not “make it” are easily forgotten, and these are often the greater number who silently drift away unnoticed. Attracting new players and the retention of colts and juniors is a major issue for many Clubs. It begins at an early stage Northwich superstars mini's program stimulates a mutual respect between the differing mini age groups and skill levels interacting together, whereby the elder or more technically advanced players actively support in training drills and demonstrations, to improve not only themselves, their peers but also their younger teammates. Being a “Buddy” is encouraged. Coaches engage the older juniors in conversation urging them to talk openly about game tactics, disappointments, and improvements encouraging them in making decisions. At all levels player expectations are managed, after all not everyone is going to get county trials or play for the clubs 1st XV. However everyone needs to be dealt with respectfully

Andy Naylor’s nephews, school teachers Eddy & Sam Naylor, who both progressed via Northwich junior rugby, have taken the lead supported by RFU qualified Richard Dale, assisted by coaches two Chris’s, James and Blower. As an aside Dave Johnson now prepares the Sunday food for all participants. And as is now the norm, I’m still hovering in the background.

The Dale, Naylor, Blower coaching connection continues with a new generation and you’re children are all invited to join them and “Give it a Try”. The Northwich RUFC SuperStars sessions are open to both boys and girls aged 5-11, and continue during the summer months provided free of charge by the Northwich RUFC Youth Development Charity supported by a number of local businesses, Coleman Canal Boats have been attracted to and joined in partnership with the program. Join us every Sunday at Moss Farm Firdale Road Northwich CW8 4BH.

My grandson has recently joined the Northwich rugby SuperStars and we know children’s health has its own issues both mental and fitness related. I’ve been asked how I feel about him playing a sport which affected my life. "The senior game is a lot safer than when I played, especially regards the formation of the scrum, the Laws (rules of the game) are continually adapted to suit the ever evolving styles adopted by Nations worldwide and in respect of junior rugby the RFU continuum is more player centred and development driven endorsed by the Kids First initiative. If I ever felt it was too dangerous then he wouldn't be playing."
"The Northwich rugby SuperStars program gives the children fun and the kind of respect and moral values that will last for life. I was brought up in a football family and I know “first hand” the difference rugby values make from the support I've received since my injury from the whole rugby community."

Has life changed, from the physical activity yes but you quickly learn to adapt mentally, friends still say “I’m bloody stupid”.

Keeping active is key, during rehabilitation at Southport a nurse said to me “find something to do to challenge you” that was easy “stay connected to Rugby” was my reply.

For anyone reading I fully endorse from my own experience that the benefits of a volunteer role are enormous to you, you’re family, and your community. Whatever your age or life situation, volunteering can help take your mind off your own worries, keep you mentally stimulated and also give you a sense of pride and identity. 

And once rugby gets in the blood, it’s there for life.