63 : When A Crash Turns Your World Upside Down w/ Pro Rugby Player, Matt Duckworth

Matt Duckworth is a former professional Rugby player from England.  Matt played for the Castleford Tigers Rugby Club in Yorkshire England, but his career was derailed by an injury sustained off the field. While driving back from spending time with friends on a week off from training with the Castleford Tigers, Matt's car was struck  in the side by another vehicle on the M6 Toll Road.  The accident resulted in Matt breaking his C3, C4 and C& vertebrae in his neck. The collision forced Matt's car to roll over on it's side, and he found himself stuck in his seatbelt.  His passenger and best friend, James "Peg" came out of the crash relatively unscathed and eventually helped Matt out of the car when he began to experience severe neck pain.  After this, Matt was transported by helicopter to the hospital.  Although Matt was lucky enough the avoid paralysis, he suffered a stroke while recovering in the hospital.  Matt developed hematoma's in his brain after the crash, which ultimately led to the stroke (this part was unfortunately not discussed in the interview).  The stroke effected Matt's ability to walk and balance, which are two essential attributes that all rugby players rely on.

This is what Matt's car looked like after the crash. Someone was definintely looking out for him up there...

This is what Matt's car looked like after the crash. Someone was definintely looking out for him up there...

Matt was 19 years old at the time of the crash and was at the peak of his physical athleticism. In professional sports, all the athletes get paid, but it isn't until they reach negotiations for their second contract that they get "paid-paid."  Just before the crash, Matt was getting ready to sign a new contract which would have led to an increase in his salary.  This only added fuel to the fire that had ignited with the onset of depression and attributes of bi-polar after realizing how much he had lost due to his injuries. 

Doctors advised Matt in the hospital that he would never play rugby again, but he always maintained the thought he would come back.  He received a tremendous amount of support from his  club, teammates, coaches and fans, which helped raise his spirits throughout the recovery process.  It wasn't until making his way back into the gym that Matt realized his situation was more serious than he originally thought. He had difficulty even lifting a 15 pound dumbbell. The Castleford Tigers continued to pay Matt throughout his recovery and provided physiotherapy which extended Matt's rugby career an additional two years.  

Matt found CrossFit as a great outlet after his rugby career ended. I recommend any athlete struggling in their transition to life after sports to give CrossFit a try, but Matt and I both emphasize the importance of leaving your ego at the door before you walk in the gym. Matt and I met at CrossFit Motown in Morristown, NJ.

Matt found CrossFit as a great outlet after his rugby career ended. I recommend any athlete struggling in their transition to life after sports to give CrossFit a try, but Matt and I both emphasize the importance of leaving your ego at the door before you walk in the gym. Matt and I met at CrossFit Motown in Morristown, NJ.

After Matt's Rugby career, he moved to the United States and began working for USA Sports Group, which is a company that offers sports programs for kids. Matt relishes in the opportunity to be a positive influence in his athletes lives and encourages all coaches to care about not just the athletes, but the whole person outside of their sport. During our discussion Matt and I discuss the differences between sports culture in the U.S. and in England.  What I found interesting is that Matt feels the U.S. sports culture focuses too much on safety and what can go wrong instead of just letting the kids play.  I'm sure this podcast is a contributor to that cultural difference, but my main goal is the minimize the risk to maximize the fun.  

We also discussed some of the interesting characteristics of Rugby that could potentially benefit the game of American football.  Specifically the idea of Rugby "Sevens" (explained in the video above) intrigued me because of this NPR article Big Rule Changes Could Make Youth Football Games A Whole Lot Smaller, which was posted by my friends at Mind of The Athlete.  In rugby sevens, each side as 7 players on the field instead of 13 for rugby league rules and 15 in rugby union rules (the differences between rugby league and rugby union are explained in the video below).  Rugby league, which Matt played, is more similar to American football.  The article highlights USA Football's (The governing body of American football) proposal of playing with anywhere from 6-9 players per side instead of the traditional 11.  Less, players on the field, more room to avoid collisions, sound good to me!  However, they also propose shorter fields in this format, which in my opinion defeats the purpose of reducing the number of players on the field (future podcast episode to come on this topic).

I am super stoked about the idea of the rugby sevens potential to influence the game of American football.  However, it made me think that it may cause a barrier to entry for some of the bigger fellas out there who could use the exercise and maybe jumpstart an active lifestyle.  But where do you draw the line?  This topic also came up in our conversation because tackling has recently been banned in schools for rugby matches.  Matt does not think this is good for safety or for the sport of rugby.  He feels if you take tackling out of the sport, it is no longer rugby, and he is right.  You can't take hitting out of football because then it wouldn't be football anymore.  However, I still believe attacking the macho culture of these sports is the best plan of attack to minimize both short-term and long-term risk for athletes.  There are so many things I wished I asked Matt looking back.  We will have to do a follow up interview in the near future!



Download Episode 63 : iTunes | Stitcher | SoundCloud

25 : Brian O' Leary & Nick Hess, London Irish Rugby

Brian O'Leary (Right) and Nick Hess (Left) tending to an injured athlete.

Brian O'Leary (Right) and Nick Hess (Left) tending to an injured athlete.

Last week the London Irish Rugby club was in the United States for a match against Saracens, which  took place at Red Bull Arena on March 12, 2016.  Brian O'Leary, Head of Medical Services for the London Irish Rugby Club, spoke at Atlantic Sports Health in Morristown, New Jersey about the latest athlete health and safety management in professional rugby.  Being an employee of Atlantic Sports Health, I took it upon myself to invite Brian and his colleague Nick Hess, Senior Physiotherapist, to do an interview and talk about trends in health and safety in their sport and how it can help improve safety in other sports like American Football.  

Brian and Nick were both former rugby players themselves and they start off by talking about what led them to become Physiotherapists and what they loved most about the sport.  It was interesting to see the similarities in cultures between rugby and American football.  Brian and Nick both mentioned how the core values of respect, discipline, toughness and physicality were what they loved most about the sport.  These same values are the reason why I and millions of people around the US love American football so much.  Brian mentioned how there was recently a push over in England to ban tackling in youth rugby similar to the idea of forbidding tackle football until kids reach high school age.  We all were in agreement that we don't believe this is the answer to making the games safer.

Brian O'Leary (Left) and Nick Hess (Right)

Brian O'Leary (Left) and Nick Hess (Right)

Later in the interview Brian and Nick talk about the data they collect on each athlete to monitor their overall wellbeing in an effort to prevent injuries.  For example, the London Irish players all wear GPS devices to measure there milage for the day and the medical staff looks for spikes in their training volume, which then raises a red flag to follow up with that individual. In addition, each player takes a rate of perceived exertion survey every morning which ask's them about their sleep, stress, muscle soreness and mood.  This measurement is also used to red flag athletes who need to be monitored more closely.

 My favorite part of the conversation was when we talked about what American football can learn from the sport of Rugby to make the game safer.  Brian and Nick both talked about the major difference between the sports is the flow of the game.  In American football, there is a stoppage of play after each tackle made, whereas in Rugby the game is continued and many times to ball is pitched to another player.  The continuous flow of the game makes it more risky to go for a "kill-shot".  I think there is a lot of potential in this idea to take some of the unnecessary or big-hits on defenseless receivers out of the game.

Nick Hess is responsible for long-term injured players and he and Brian both talk about how they also serve the role of sports psychologist at times with the athletes.  We talk about how to get the most out of your rehab program and how to stay on your game mentally and emotionally throughout the process. Unfortunately, every athlete's career comes to an end at some point and it can often feel like the loss of a close friend or relative.  Brian talks about the grieving process that some of his athletes go through.  If you are an athlete who has recently suffered a career ending injury checkout episode 23 with another Irishman, Liam Mulcahy!

Both rugby and American football are high contact sports and therefore have high incident rates of injury.  Why are these two physically brutal games, which have left many athletes beaten, battered and debilitated (and in my case almost dead), so popular among the athletes who play and the fans who watch?  I don't know if there is a good answer to this question, but I know that if I could do it all over again I undoubtedly would.  I still have dreams about playing under the Friday Night Lights.  It might be the glory, camaraderie, or the impressive display of athleticism and tactical strategies that unite entire nations and communities around the world.  Whatever it is, I hope sports like rugby and football will be around long into the future and my hope is that this episode will spark a conversation about how to improve health and safety in all sports.      

Where can you learn more about London Irish Rugby?

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