Injured forward has an ally in Southland man
Southlander Dan Buckingham can relate to the whirlwind of emotions Australian league player Alex McKinnon will be experiencing following his devastating spinal injury.
It has been reported McKinnon, a Newcastle Knights forward, may be quadriplegic after falling on his neck when tackled by Melbourne Storm players on March 24.
Buckingham can empathise. At 18 he was left a tetraplegic after his neck was broken during a game of club rugby in Dunedin in 1999.
Now, 15 years later, wheelchair-bound Buckingham is a producer at AttitudeLive - an online resource for people with disabilities.
Waking up to the news he had a serious spinal injury brought a whirlwind of emotions, Buckingham said.
"The initial moment is such a blur . . . the first week I didn't know what was going on."
The immediate future for McKinnon would be uncertain but it was important for people to neither limit nor expect too much in terms of recovery, Buckingham said.
The hard-line denial approach doesn't help anyone.
Doctors who deal with these kinds of injuries every day know what they are talking about, he said.
At the same time, it is also no good limiting someone's options on the basis of their disability.
"People with disabilities sometimes limit themselves . . . [they have their] expectations set really low about what they can and can't do."
As someone who managed to go on and have a successful sports career after a life-changing injury, Buckingham said he was lucky that no-one ever tried to limit him.
He was a member of the Wheel Blacks, New Zealand's wheelchair rugby team for two Olympic cycles, including Athens 2004, where the team took home the gold.
Buckingham is humble about his achievements and drew a line between a comparison to his circumstances and McKinnon's.
McKinnon was in the prime of his career, where he was fully reliant on his physical performance.
"I was your average Kiwi bloke playing rugby."
One of the hardest things to deal with after a spinal or neck injury is the person is not actually sick - it's just that the body is not functioning as it was before, he said.
There was the assumption that the injury would have a bigger toll on McKinnon because his sport was such a big part of his life, Buckingham said.
But spinal injuries made people zero in on how their body worked and they focused on what they could do, rather than what they could not do, he said.
"Not everyone who has a disability will go on and become a company CEO or a paralympian but they can live an everyday life."
The Southland Times