Saturday, 25 July 2009


A post lifted unashamedly from World Masters Rugby Group...

...I really want to add my thanks to a rugby community in Canada that has been far, far more than a family to me.

I came to Vancouver, Canada in 1982, from Rhodesia via Britain. I had played rugby since I was 9 but had no plans to play here until I had established myself in my new country.

I hadn't been here 3 months before my phone rang at work and a voice with a marked Rdesian accent said, "Is that Fenner from Salisbury?" "Yes," I replied, "Who's this?" "Oh, you don't know me, but get your a*se down to the Rowing Club for practice on Thursday".

So much for a break from rugby!I played for a couple of years, then blew my knee apart skiing on Whistler. I tried to watch the game I love so much, and failed. I simply couldn't stand not being on the pitch. I walked away and didn't even watch a match for nearly 9 years.

Then a friend who helped me get employed suggested I come and drink with his Over-40's club on training nights ("good for business/social contacts, what?"). I did, and after a couple of months (one had to be invited to join this particular club at the time), the president said "You've been hanging around here for long enough, Fenner - pay your dues!"

A month later, gammy knee and all, I could no longer sit and watch so dug out my now 20-yr-old boots. I ran at practice for a while, then started playing. Within a year I was up to playing a complete 60-min game in the backs.

I built a company and we had an IPO fully subscribed when Bre-X hit and wiped my backers out overnight. With them gone, I lost literally everything - except my rugby friends. They took me in and looked after me - for three years! Thank you, Tom, Dawn and Len. Words cannot express.....

It was a real struggle to get back on my feet but another buddy, whom I had brought back into rugby, finally gave me "not a hand-out, but a hand up". Thanks to him restoring my self-esteem, I was soon back creating my own opportunities. Thank you, John. Without you I wouldn't have made it. I finally joined a company training Mounties as a junior partner, and we built an enviable reputation in 5 years before the inevitable partnership squabbles scotched the deal.

I left the company and had just formed a new partnership with - you guessed it - another rugby friend from San Diego. He is an ex-Brit Marine, and we were perfectly placed in my specialist field of police training. We booked and paid for a business trip to Australia and NZ, where we knew there was huge business to be had. An old police buddy from Rhodesia (Welsh, rugby man!) had lined up a $1M contract in Kuwait with his employers. We were all set to rock 'n

I left my Kerrisdale apartment with a definite life path ahead of me and the world at my feet, riding my beloved motorcycle on a glorious sunny August Friday afternoon. I decided to go the long way to avoid traffic, give my rugby buddies at "The Billy" the good news, and enjoy a celebratory pint.

I woke up five days later in ICU. A woman in a panel van had run a stop sign while I was shoulder-checking and I re-decorated her B-pillar with my head. I broke C1/C2 (multiple Jefferson fracture), pelvis (multiple fractures), rt. arm (plated), compressed C4/5/6 so that my left arm is partially numb, smashed my front teeth out and had 3rd, 2nd and 1st degree
burns to both legs (skin grafts required).

When I woke up, the Kiwi nurse asked "Who are you? Are you famous?" "No," I said, "Why?" She said "We've had to turn so many people away in the last 4 days, I just wondered."It was my Legends Rugby Club teammates.

I spent 3+ months in a halo brace and won't bore you with the rest of that story. Suffice to say that the pelvis and arm still haven't mended properly, and the last three years has been a medical and legal nightmare. The point is I AVERAGED 4 sets of visitors a day for OVER THREE MONTHS - most of them my rugby buddies, supported by pals from the RCMP and VPD. Cards, emails and phone calls poured in from military and BSAP (Rhodesian Police) buddies from all over the world - some of whom I had never met while serving and knew only from the internet.

One of my teammates (bless you, Dai bach!) brought me dinner every night for 2 months. My best buddy Chris was there EVERY night, looked after all my affairs, everything. I have no words that come close to expressing my humility and gratitude.

I was one millimetre from being dead or a non-functioning quadraplegic, but I'm back walking, telling lies and drinking fine single malt. I'll never run or play again but how can a man be more blessed? With the rugby community's help, one day at a time......

I never dreamed, not for one instant, that I had been blessed to touch so many lives. I am so stunned and humbled that, every time I think of this, tears just spring to my eyes. I'm also lucky to have a good friend in the Clan, (Morning, Brigadier!) and Kris di Scossa, you Tanganyikan Terror: Wena pumbavu, shamwari. I still have your chair in the back of my car. Come and fetch it....and bring single malt!

The Canadian rugby community has not only been the backbone of my existence since I arrived in Canada 27 years ago, but has supported the heck out of me since the accident. As a former copper and military man from a tough country that no longer exists, I thought I knew what true camaraderie meant. I now know that nothing, repeat nothing, can surpass the rugby community for character, generosity, and just pure kindness.

Bless you all...

Richard Fenner
Proud Member
Legends Rugby Club
Vancouver, B.C.

1 comment:

Nursedude said...

Great story, Flanker. As somebody who now works in a spinal cord Injury/Disorder unit, I know very well what this man went through in healing through his injuries and tough rehab.

It's true that they say this is a hooligan's game...played by gentlemen.