Two years after suffering a career-threatening injury, Newport-Gwent Dragons flanker Dan Lydiate made a remarkable comeback. This is the story of how he not only made it back into professional rugby, but earned his first cap for his country.
Twenty one year old Lydiate broke his neck when playing a Heineken Cup group match against Perpignan two years ago, leaving him with temporary paralysis and requiring surgery.
“I wasnt knocked unconscious or anything like that,” he says. “I remember exactly how it happened and laying there thinking it is not good. It was a pretty scary time.
“When it happens, you lose the feeling in your arms and legs. Anybody would be scared. The medical people were also scared to move me at first, but they took all the necessary precautions and I couldnt fault them.”
The collision left him with a crushed disc, broken vertebra, and torn ligaments in his neck. He underwent surgery in November 2007, not knowing what the future held.
“I didnt know if I would walk or whatever, but it was established I was going to be fine,” he said. “The next question was whether I would be able to play again. Once I had the operation, they said there was no reason why I couldnt. You just start building from there.”
He was back walking again within three weeks, but a career in the physically bruising world of rugby looked likely to be improbable. He sat out of the game, doing a bit of work on the family farm, and wondering if hed ever make it back after such an ordeal.
Watching Wales win the Grand Slam in 2008 added to the feeling of disappointment he had to deal with while unable to play. “It was terribly frustrating,” said Lydiate. “I love my rugby and was chuffed that Wales had won the Grand Slam. But I found it too difficult to watch at times.
“I suppose they were the darkest days, although through it all, I never let go of the possibility of getting back and maybe, one day, playing at that level.”
Exactly two years on from the fateful night, he made his debut against Argentina off the bench at the Millennium Stadium. It was the culmination of a dream that he’d worked hard for after the horrific injury that almost changed his life forever.
“When things like that happen, you are just happy to walk again,” he said. “Then, once you start training, you get the bug again and start wondering ‘what if?’.”
He only got ten minutes to play against Argentina, but loved every moment of it.
“I havent stopped smiling,” he said, “I kept my cap on as long as I could in the evening function, it was a huge honour for me.
“My family were all down at the game and my mam didnt stop crying all day, she still had tears in her eyes on Sunday,” he said after his debut.