Picture it…you are having a great game but it all comes to an end as a badly timed tackle pushes your neck downwards into your chest. You know this is bad as it is taking some time to get you off the pitch and everybody around you is looking grave.
You eventually discover that you have fractured you C6, one of the vertebra in your neck. You have not fractured it once but thrice! Although in shock, it soon becomes evident that you were a whisker away from paralysis with a totally life changing outcome.
I really would not blame you if you decided to call it a day with rugby. Eight weeks in a neck brace, 24/7, after the removal of the damaged vertebra and a bone graft from your hip with a metal plate and screws etc, can certainly make you asess your life.
However, this is not what Tom Croft decided to do!
With the help of his specialist, Peter Hamlyn, head coach Richard Cockerill, the tigers, his friends and family, and more importantly his fiancée Harriet, Tom decided to push on. Getting physically fit was the easy part, especially with time on his hands. There were anxious moments, especially when his return date was a moveable mark and no doubt frustrating…but what about psychological fitness?
It does help when everybody around you believes in you, but that can only happen if you believe in yourself.
I guess the real test comes when you are there…in the game…and you can visualise your first tackle.
Fortunately, you have no time to think about it and in you go. Tom’s first tackle in the Worcester match did not go according to plan; his head was on the wrong side and he nearly knocked himself out. But he ‘survived’, physically and emotionally, with all doubts floating away.
Tom played his 100th game for the Tigers against the Sharks at the weekend. Passing Sale’s coach and seeing their kit bags lined up alongside each other after the match, my thoughts reverted to the spine and how precious the alignment of the vertebrae are.
It is possible that Tom may find himself on the pitch for his country this weekend against Italy. Whether he is or not, I wish him all the best with his future.