One aspect of life that the RFU Injured Players Foundation (IPF) tries to help catastrophically injured clients retain is their love of sport and adventure.
Wheelchair users can enjoy sports like golf as demonstrated by IPF Welfare Officer John Burgess, injured in 2004 playing for Sunderland RFC, who recently teamed up with one of the charity's trustees, Judy Metcalfe, to represent the IPF. They won the British Sports Golf Championship at Edgbaston Golf Club. Client, Duncan Campbell and Cae Menai Davis from the Golf Trust who has coached other clients came third.
Said Duncan: “This was the first competitive sport I’ve played since my injury and the first time I’ve felt like a sportsperson again.”
Some IPF clients have played wheelchair rugby to the highest level, including Ross Morrison and Justin Frishberg, who played for Great Britain. Ross is now coaching Finland’s wheelchair rugby team. Justin coaches France and currently has the bragging rights, his squad having won the European Championships.
Jack Smith MBE was part of the 12-strong GB wheelchair rugby team who won gold at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. Dedicated to the sport and training five days a week, when he was selected and phoned his mum Janet she burst into tears and Jack understood how much his achievement meant. Becoming a Paralympic champion was, he says: “Just crazy. It really hit us when we got home and saw what it meant to others, it was ‘Wow, this is the real deal!’”
Mum of three, Dani Czernuszka-Watts, injured playing for Rams Rugby in 2017, is now playing sledge hockey for Great Britain and says: “Playing para sport brings courage out in each other that many of us didn’t know we had. It’s so important for everyone who chooses to play.”
The IPF supports clients who want to pursue sport and activities at whatever level, often funding equipment, travel and accommodation. A Royal Marine recruit when he sustained a brain injury playing for Cobham RFC in 2009, Duncan was medically discharged before completing training. Having been tremendously fit, his life became sedentary. Now, thanks to the IPF, he has found a new sport which has changed his life. Although he has to play one-handed, he has achieved a golf handicap.
“The charity held a golf day, and I went along not expecting to get much out of it, but it’s been amazing,” he said. “I love playing golf and the IPF have funded all my equipment. I’m so much happier and healthier now, I’ve lost a stone and a half in weight and I’m out on the course or at the driving range all the time.”
Activities Of All Kinds
And it hasn’t stopped at golf, Duncan has also been sailing and skiing with other IPF clients and is going skiing again next February having acquired a new lease of life.
IPF clients also often benefit from the Royal British Legion’s Battleback programme at Lilleshall’s National Sports Centre. This gives them the opportunity, with their partners and carers, to challenge themselves by both taking part in various sports but also talking with other clients on how to make positive changes to their lives.
At the end of the summer holidays a group of 13 went with their families to spend a week at the Bendrigg Trust multi activity centre which specialises in outward bound activities for people with disabilities. There they enjoyed the likes of ziplining, abseiling, climbing, caving, canoeing, cycling and archery.
One IPF client enjoying the week was Aaron Williams who was there with his wife Elisabeth and children Alexa, aged seven, and three-year-old Oscar. Aaron, a serving police officer when he was injured playing for Basildon in 2007, still works full-time for the police. With a growing family, he has given up playing wheelchair rugby but had a great time at the activity week. What Aaron really loved was “not being on the side lines watching but being able to do something with my children, being able to take part.”
Alexa’s thank you card said it all.