Former servicemen and Injured Players Foundation clients Kevin Ware and Isoa Qalabau, who were both injured playing rugby, were on opposition teams at the England v Fiji Test at Twickenham.
Together at Twickenham
In the IPF hospitality box adapted for wheelchair users, former Royal Marine, Kevin, and British Army soldier, Isoa, swapped experiences while cheering on their teams, with Fijian born former Royal Logistics Corps rugby player Isoa delighted to see his team win.
Kevin had just left the Marines when his brain injury occurred playing rugby for Torrington RFC at Christmas 2000. He says: “The IPF have been brilliant. Having played rugby since the age of 11, it has been really good to have that rugby support. Whether it is with grants to help my everyday living or coming here to Twickenham to enjoy matches with other clients and the IPF team, they are always there.”
Isoa, known to friends as Q, agrees: “Seeing Fiji win for the first time has been amazing and being here with others from the IPF is always good. I played fly half for my Army Logistics team and was injured in a tackle in September 2010. I was in Stoke Mandeville for seven months and then in Headley Court for rehab.
“Thanks to the IPF I can have my wife Mele with me all the time. They helped me buy my house and to adapt it for my needs and they’ve always been there for me, Mele and my two children who are now 13 and 18.”
Putting an arm around the family
Another family enjoying time at Twickenham was that of Mike Race, an aerospace engineer, who at 38 was playing for Cleve RFC in Bristol when a head injury in a tackle caused a bleed on the brain and left him paralysed on his left side.
“In Southmeads Hospital in Bristol things gradually began to improve,” he says. “I began to get movement back, slowly started walking and had physio and rehab once home.
“I wasn’t really aware of the IPF before, but I got a phone call and it felt like someone was putting an arm around me. Offering help, visiting me in hospital, it meant a lot to me and my wife Louise and our children.”
Says Louise, an occupational therapist: “I don’t think I could have got through that first week without the IPF support. I’d had a call from Mike’s club, where the kids also play, to say he was injured and an ambulance had been called. At that point it looked like concussion, but he had a bad gash on his head.
“Initially I thought our rugby life as a family was done but I soon discovered we were not alone. The IPF came to visit Mike, John Burgess the IPF welfare officer travelled a long way to be with him and it meant a lot to have someone come from the RFU’s charity. It meant a great deal to the kids too, we were given a signed England shirt, an invitation to a game at Twickenham and at such a negative time they had something positive to look forward to and that support is still there, we know we only have to call.
“After Mike’s injury we had video messages from Bristol Bears players, Seb Nigri, Joe Marler. That’s when you realise what’s meant by the rugby family.”