Newcastle forward Alex McKinnon has defended the safety of rugby league as he detailed the significant improvement he has made since suffering a spinal injury in a lifting tackle earlier this season.
McKinnon, who will return to Hunter Stadium next Sunday for the first time since suffering the injury in Melbourne on March 24 , vowed to walk again at a press conference ahead of the NRL's RiseForAlex fundraising round of matches.
When McKinnon was first injured doctors said he only had movement in his shoulder but he is now able extend his elbows and wrists, and wheeled himself into the press conference at ANZ Stadium on Monday morning.
During his first interview with the media, McKinnon said he remained determined to be able to walk again and was prepared to do whatever was necessary to achieve his goal.
"You see a lot of people in the environment I am in now, their focus is to get home and just to get on with their life whereas as much as I would love to get home and get back to my family and back to Newcastle, I want to walk again," McKinnon said.
"You see a lot of stories about people who get on with their life and they don't walk again. My focus is to get as much back as I can and I am slowly improving.
"For example, when I was first diagnosed I was a C4, which all that is is shoulder movement and nothing else - no fingers, no feeling in your legs or anything like that.
"I am slowly progressing and I am a C7 now, which is three levels below my injury. It is going to be a slow and long process but I am willing to do that. I am 22 and I am going to give it my best shot. I am slowly improving and I am determined to continue improving."
McKinnon's injury prompted the NRL to launch a controversial crack down on lifting tackles which has led to lengthy suspensions for some players.
McKinnon declined to comment on his view of lifting tackles but he said "rugby league is a safe sport".
"Lifting tackles are always going to be in the game but if you ask me if the game is safe, of course it is safe," he said. "There are more people in car accidents that end up having spinal injuries than in rugby league. That is the way I have taken it, and it is the way I take every day I suppose.
"Being in the spinal ward you see other people and you realise your situation probably isn't as bad as theirs. Some people have injuries from walking down the street or riding pushbikes."
As part of the RiseForAlex round, the NRL will donate one dollar to the RiseForAlex Fund for every fan who attends any match this weekend.
- Sydney Morning Herald
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