Four men, four wheelchairs, four identical injuries caused by the same sport – it is a scenario Ross Ormsby, Brad Hayward, Phillip Booth and Neil Cudby are all too familiar with. They share their story with reporter Alexia Johnston, just moments after completing the Otago Central Rail Trail, another of their “bucket list” milestones.
Rugby fans Ross Ormsby, Brad Hayward, Phillip Booth and Neil Cudby would be forgiven for never wanting to utter the sport’s name ever again.
The men are tetraplegics after each broke their neck – their C56 to be precise – while playing rugby and have never walked since.
They are all “fully paralysed”, which means they do not have any function or feeling from the shoulders down.
This month marks 35 years since Ormsby’s injury, while Cudby is into his 29th year.
Next month marks 25 years since Hayward had his and Booth is into his 23rd year.
Times have since changed – not only in the way the men now go about their daily lives, but the sport itself has been altered to prevent similar injuries from happening as frequently as they once did.
It is a key message the men want to deliver.
“There’s only very few similar injuries, if any,” Cudby said.
“There could have been up to 10 [per season] in the 1980s and 1990s.”
“All the work that has been done has reduced it significantly to almost no spinal injuries.”
He said the way the scrum was now played had been of particular importance to how those numbers had reduced.
The men agreed that their playing days of the 1980s and 1990s were quite different from today’s rules and wanted to credit the work done by the Rugby Union, which had made a difference for the better.
They also acknowledged the work of the NZ Rugby Foundation, which supports seriously injured players.
The foundation does not pay for services covered by ACC.
Instead it provides support with legal assistance regarding trusts, deeds, wills and advocacy matters, education, personal counselling, arts, sports, home and garden maintenance, business start-up assistance, technology and group activities.
“It’s a charitable trust to look after us guys that are injured by rugby,” Booth said.
It was the foundation that had made it possible for the men to get on with their lives and “break barriers”, Hayward said.
Their most recent accomplishment was the Otago Central Rail Trail, which the men completed using hand-cycles late last week.
They were joined by a support crew.
That crew, and the foundation, meant the men could achieve what they described as the “best barrier-free” trail they had completed so far.
“We haven’t found a better one and we’ve done a lot of them,” Cudby said.
The aim of their rail trail journey was to “fun-raise”, while also raise awareness of the foundation.