Owen Williams: Wales centre stoic on long road to paralysis recovery

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The past is in the past – Owen Williams
Scrum V's Owen Williams interview
Channel: BBC Two Wales & online Date: Sunday, 21 December Time: 17:55 GMT

On 20 June this year, Owen Williams was ensconced in a luxury hotel in Singapore watching the sun set on the harbour.

He was a young man on the rise. His form for Cardiff Blues had earned him a first Wales cap and he was looking forward to an off-season romp in the World Club Tens tournament, playing the game he loved in exotic surroundings.

Two days later, he was in a hospital bed, unable to move. A fairly innocuous looking tackle had left him temporarily paralysed. It was a terrifying ordeal and one he's just beginning to emerge from.

Since then, Owen has been through six months of intensive rehabilitation at Cardiff's Rookwood Hospital, regaining some movement in both arms.

As yet, no feeling has returned to his legs and torso. It's been, he says, "physically exhausting", but it's the mental demons he's worked hardest to conquer. He's refusing to dwell on what might have been, refusing to feel sorry for himself and refusing to look back.

"I don't just want to lie there and waste away," he told me. "You have to accept it and get on with it and try and make something of your life… you could just lie there and stay in bed, but that's not the way I want to go."

Owen Williams in action for Wales
Owen Williams won four caps for Wales before suffering a serious spinal injury in Singapore

He'd be forgiven for being consumed with bitterness, for questioning why the hand of fate came to lay so cruelly on his shoulder. But he says that path leads only to ruin.

"I try not to think about what's gone on," he said. "It's just about the future. I don't want to go thinking about being angry with anyone. You've just got to crack on with it.

"The past is the past now. I just want to look to a positive future. I've been tackled like that a hundred times before and … nothing. It was just a stroke of bad luck really; a bit unlucky on the day, and that's what's happened now."

Owen spends every day in the gym and in the hydro pool, working on his upper body strength. He says things are going well. There are good days and bad days, but he's seeing little improvements all the time.

"Some days are frustrating," he said. "Things don't move the way you want them to, but it's small steps at a time. Things are improving.

"As before with rugby injuries, you have an injury and you can see big gains week by week. With this, it's more month by month. I don't want to know too much about the science behind it. I didn't really ask many questions about the extent of my injury… I just get on with it. What happens, happens."

If he continues to progress, he'll be ready to leave hospital in February. He's already spent a number of weekends at home and is planning to spend four days with his family at Christmas.

"I'm looking forward to eating a bit of tidy food and having a bit of peace and quiet... no rattling from the tea trolley coming round on the ward every two hours! Just looking forward to a bit of chilling out and getting my head back on for what I've got to take on after Christmas, with my rehab and my next set of goals."

Owen Williams
Scrum V cameras visited Owen Williams at home with his family

Speak to any of his Blues colleagues and they'll all tell you how hard Owen worked, how dedicated he was and how many hours he'd put in at the gym. Sam Warburton - no stranger to the gym himself - has described him as an "absolute specimen".

To suffer an accident like this is catastrophic whoever the victim. But given that Owen defined himself by his physicality, by his athleticism, is it somehow harder to deal with?

Again, he remains stoic and resolute, turning the question into a positive: "If anything, it's to my benefit because, obviously, I had that bit of drive about me before so it does help me push on in the gym and not just take what's happened and waste away. It does really give me that boost I need… just to get on with the rehab."

Perhaps most remarkably, he harbours no resentment to the sport that, before this, had given him everything. He's watched every Blues game this season on the TV, was a special guest at the Millennium Stadium when Wales played the All Blacks in November and is planning to return to the Arms Park for the first time, for the Boxing Day derby against the Dragons.

Despite what's happened, his passion for rugby endures and his resolve has strengthened: "It does make you a stronger person. It's made me stronger in the way things have got to be done. And you've just got to get on with it sometimes. "

Watch the full interview with Owen Williams on Scrum V, Sunday, 21 December, 17:55 GMT on BBC Two Wales

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