Paralympian Jack inspires Falcons squad

Thursday 14 July 2022 Written by: Adam

Jack shared his inspirational story with players and staff before watching training and being presented with a Falcons shirt – head coach Dave Walder saying: “It was great to have Jack with us.

“I asked him to come in because he’s a really positive person with an incredible story, and you couldn’t fail to be inspired by what he had to say.”

North-East native Jack was a tight-head prop for Billingham RFC before his life was turned upside-down in the space of a fortnight at the age of just 16.

Having found a lump in his groin and received a diagnosis of non-hodgkin’s lymphoma, he suffered another devastating blow less than two weeks later when an accident playing rugby for Billingham left him paralysed.

“It was just a freak incident where someone landed on my head during a ruck,” said Jack, who was a Newcastle Falcons season ticket holder in his youth.

“I had a three-month rehab in hospital where I couldn’t even sit up, push my wheelchair or do the basic things we all take for granted. I didn’t know what to do, but as I eventually came to realise, your life’s not over.”

Now playing his wheelchair club rugby for Leicester Tigers as well as preparing for the upcoming World Championships in Denmark this October, Jack admits he was not an instant success in the sport.

“I had my accident in the January, and my first exposure to wheelchair rugby was in September of that year. I’d ballooned to 20 stone, and I was knackered after doing one length of the court.

“I enjoyed the social aspect of it, the team nights out, and in 2016 I was asked to join the elite squad. I missed out on Paralympic selection for 2016 in Rio, but in 2019 I was called up for an international tournament. During that competition I found another lump in my groin, and the timing coincided with Covid coming in.

“I’d just moved out of my parents’ house, so it meant I was doing chemotherapy on my own, going home where I was on my own again and feeling rubbish, and it was a really hard time. Like anyone you have your down moments, but I tried to stay positive and eventually received the phonecall that changed my life.

“I’d been called up for the Paralympics in Tokyo, and ironically the year’s delay for Covid actually helped me because it gave me time to get over my chemo.”

Explaining Team GB’s route to gold-medal glory, he said: “We had a good win over Canada in our first game, and then in the second we faced New Zealand. Even their wheelchair team does a version of the haka, which is still pretty intimidating to face, and at half-time in that game we were 5-0 up.

“We had a nightmare second half and ended up conceding ten points to lose the game, but we didn’t let that disappointment throw us off course. We came back and beat the home team, Japan, which was a huge result for us, and then in the final we faced America.

“We’d never beaten any of the top four teams in the world prior to the Games, but we got our prep right and had the game of our lives. Coming home and seeing all the bunting in my street was incredible, and it was all just about belief. We’d gone into the Paralympics as underdogs, but through positivity and hard work we produced some incredible performances.

“Being asked by Dave Walder to come in and tell my story was genuinely a huge honour for me, because I used to come here and sit in the West Stand every week watching the Falcons. With playing down in Leicester I don’t manage to get along as much as I would like to, but just to spend the day with the squad and chat to them about various aspects was a great experience.”

Walder said: “I’ve been blown away by Jack’s positive attitude and the way he has spoken with the players.

“There was an incredible amount of honesty with regards to dealing with massive setbacks, and about how the underdog can produce big results when it really matters. I know the players and staff have got a huge amount out of having Jack with us, and I want to say a massive thank you for him coming in and sharing his story.”