Feature: Matt Hampson striving to help others hit by devastating injuries

Matt Hampson and his dog Alfie at home in Cold Overton.'Photo: MSMP010713-011ow
Matt Hampson and his dog Alfie at home in Cold Overton.'Photo: MSMP010713-011ow
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Some people might let an accident which left them paralysed from the neck down stop them achieving in life but a former sportsman is busier than ever helping others battling the same demons.

Rugby player Matt Hampson’s life changed forever on March 15, 2005 when he dislocated his neck when a scrum collapsed on top of him during a training session for the England under-21 squad.

Following the accident Matt spent just over a year at Stoke Mandeville hospital, a specialist centre for spinal injuries.

More than eight years later he still relies on a machine to breathe and a team of 11 carers to help provide 24-hour care.

But remarkably the 28-year-old, from Cold Overton, believes his accident has put him on track to fulfilling a purpose in life much greater than he ever would have had as a sportsman.

He has turned a charitable trust originally set up to support him and provide funding for the 24-hour care he requires, into a foundation to help other people severely injured through sport.

Matt said: “You need to get busy living.

“I have good days and bad day like anybody. But I think a lot of people use being in a wheelchair as a reason to be miserable and downhearted.

“I don’t feel like that. I live a good and fulfilled life.

“What I am doing with my life now is probably more important than what I was doing before and the fact that I can help other people through the foundation is great.

“My life is busier than ever now. There is a lot going on. There is always something. It takes the emphasis off my own situation and it helps when I concentrate on other things. I think it is important for people with spinal injuries or with catastrophic injuries to be busy.”

Matt is supported in everything he does by a close knit family, his father Phil, mother Anne, sister Amy and brother Tom.

Matt could have been forgiven for turning his back on the game which put him in a wheelchair but his love of rugby lives on.

His Leicester Tigers squad photo hangs in prime position on the living room wall of his home, which has been specially adapted for him.

Before talking about the work the Matt Hampson Foundation, our first conversations are about the recent British and Irish Lions tour of Australia.

We quickly move on to Matt’s work coaching at his former club, Oakham, and at the breeding ground of future rugby stars, Oakham School.

Matt said: “I absolutely love it. It is great to go back to my old club.

“One of my best mates Tom Armstrong, is a coach there. He was in the Tigers academy with me.

“I do a bit with the forwards, some scrummaging and line outs and things and he does a bit with the backs.

“It works out well and I do enjoy it. I always said coaching is the next best thing to playing rugby.”

While Matt is still giving back to the sport he took up as a child, the rugby fraternity has also not forgotten him.

On April 21 more than 14,000 people turned out to watch rugby legends battle it out at Welford Road in Leicester and raise money for the foundation and the Louis Deacon benefit year.

Matt, who was pitchside for the match as forwards coach, said: “I was just really chuffed with the response. The money raised obviously was fantastic but also all the awareness and the big names that turned out for the game.

“To have Jason Robinson captain one side and Martin Johnson captain the other side was pretty amazing and from what I understand it was the biggest rugby crowd in the northern hemisphere that week.

“The rugby fraternity and the rugby community have given me great support and still do.

“I always say rugby gives me more now than it did before my accident and I do genuinely believe that.”

Away from raising money Matt have been travelling the country raising awareness of issues which affect disabled people, with two particularly high profile gigs.

With the same brutal honesty which he showed in his award-winning autobiography Engage, Matt was featured on Channel 4’s Embarrassing Bodies programme talking about 
how he deals with the difficulties of being disabled, particularly in regards to going to the toilet.

It takes Matt three hours to get ready in the morning. The 17-stone former prop has to be hoisted out of bed by an electric winch, before being washed, have fluid drained from his lungs, dressed and placed in his state-of-the-art wheelchair.

But Matt said: “I wanted to get on to Embarrassing Bodies to show people that I am obviously disabled but I live a good and fulfilled life.”

Earlier this month Matt spoke at a reception at House of Lords for launch of Bowel Independence Day to raise awareness of bowel management issues and to provide easier access to information on treatments,

Away from the public appearances and television cameras Matt’s real work is the foundation.

Matt said “I have received tremendous support from people from all walks of life and I felt that I needed to carry on the momentum of the fundraising for myself to raise money for others.

“I am very lucky that I am in the position where I can focus my efforts on other people.

“The strap line for the foundation is to inspire and support people seriously injured through sport – that is what we aim to do. We actively go out and seek people to help.”

To be able to continue helping more people the foundation is always holding new and exciting fundraising projects, the latest being a cricket match between a Leicester Tiger XI v a Matt Hampson XI to be held at Grace Road on September 1.

For more information about the foundation visit the Matt Hampson Foundation website.

- Matt Hampson has a team of 11 carers to provide around the clock care for him and needs someone new to join the team.

The part-time position, which includes day and night working, involves caring for Matt in his own home in Cold Overton.

Matt, who requires two carers on duty at all times, said: “We are all good mates and we are all very close because we spend a lot of time together.”

Care qualifications are preferred but not essential as training will be given on the job. The salary will be discussed at interview. The deadline for applications is August 1.

Anyone interested in the role is asked to call 07739931988 for more information.