AFTER a life-changing spinal injury, a former Rams rugby player has been inundated with support from her teammates, receiving almost £500,000 in donations.
Dani Watts from Wokingham started playing rugby aged 25, but only two years later she broke her back during a tackle, while playing for Rams RFC.
The mum of two was left with a spinal injury to her central vertebra and spent six months in hospital after the 2017 accident.
She said: “It has been a very difficult time and I just want the ability to carry out ‘normal’ everyday tasks for my family and to get back to work.
“I have never known life any other way and I’ve always had a busy work life.
“Before retraining to become a personal trainer (PT), I was a police officer. I have two young children to look after and life is pretty hectic.”
After the accident, Ms Watts was inundated with donations to help her regain autonomy.
The Rugby Football Union (RFU) Injured Players Foundation donated £246,000 towards buying her and her family a fully accessible home.
She also received £140,000 from Rams club members, £30,000 from the club through a variety of fundraisers, and £100,000 from a PT client.
Gary Reynolds, chief investment officer at Rams said: “It was such a shock to the club when Dani’s accident happened.
“You never expect such a catastrophic injury — it’s a shock to the system when it happens to one of your own.”
“After her injury, all the club rallied around, as did the Injured Players Foundation (IPF) to help with everything from rent, to popping around with lunch.
“Nobody knew what to do when this happened, but they knew they had to do something. People did what they could. Some of them helping in more practical ways, by redecorating her new home.
“Once the IPF came in with the maximum level of support they could offer, there was still a shortfall of £140,000 to buy Dani her home.
“Two donors came forward within the club to make-up the final sum, and with that Dani was able to secure her house.”
The house has a range of accessible features, including a home lift — made by Wokingham-based company Stiltz — that links the dining room and bedroom to make both floors accessible.
Mr Reynolds explained how the accident impacted the other teams at Rams.
“A couple of months after the accident, Robbie Stapley, first team captain came to me and said that the players wanted to give up their match fee for Dani,” said Mr Reynolds. “He also said they would give up their win bonus — which he was very confident about.
“Sure enough they won, and in just one game they had raised £3,000.
“This has never been about the club, the real hero in all of this is Dani. I’ve learnt a hell of a lot about life by seeing her go through this experience.”
Both Ms Watts and Mr Reynolds are thankful for the support received by the IPF.
“Without them, I wouldn’t be as confident as I am now,” said Ms Watts. “Once I was in a wheelchair, I felt like I couldn’t see life beyond the chair. The perception is that you can’t do the same things.
“But actually I can. They showed me that there’s life beyond injury, and I’ve met other injured players too.
“And I think I’m a better mum for it now, because I realise what’s valuable in life — it’s the time and the memories with the kids that’s most important.”
Ms Watts is getting back into her work as a PT, and will soon be working with Rams RFU to provide group strengthening classes which can help players avoid injury.
“Pete — my fiance — plays for the men’s team and both of my children joined the Junior Rams, even after my injury,” said Ms Watts.
“At first my daughter was nervous, but sport is such a huge part of our lives, and now they love it as much as I do, which is something I am hugely proud of.
“My plan is to show my children what is possible when you have independence and determination.”
To thank the RFU Injured Players Foundation, Ms Watts is aiming to raise £10,000 in the 2020 London Marathon where both her and her partner Pete will compete in a wheelchair.
She added: “I don’t know if I’ve bitten off more than I can chew — I’ve been ill recently so that’s knocked back my training for it.
“But it should be a really good day.”
For Pete, this will be the first time he uses a wheelchair, and is being lent one for the race.
Rams RFC are also doing their bit for the IFP.
“Clubs need to be aware that injuries like these can happen,” said Mr Reynolds. “We are now looking into ways to more permanently support the IPF through our fundraising. We want to encourage other clubs to do so, as we want to be able to help the next person who needs their support.”
Dani’s London Marathon fundraiser can be viewed here: http://www.justgiving.com/Dani-Watts6. She has currently raised £4,000 of her target.