Matt Hampson: Ex-Leicester Tigers prop 10 years after injury

By Natalie Jackson and Josh HuntBBC Sport
'Injury has made me a better person'

"Get busy living, or get busy dying' - I got busy living."

Those first seven words, first delivered by Tim Robbins in the Hollywood adaptation of Stephen King's novel The Shawshank Redemption, may originally have referred to Robbins' character's plan to escape from prison.

But spoken by former England youth international and Leicester Tigers player Matt Hampson, they have a much more literal meaning.

Hampson was a standout prop for the Tigers' development squad, seemingly destined to one day earn full international honours with England.

But 10 years ago on Sunday, Hampson, then just a 20-year-old, was left paralysed from the neck down when a scrum collapsed in a training session with the England Under-21 squad.

Hampson spent 17 months in Stoke Mandeville Hospital, and now can only breathe with the help of a ventilator.

Matt Hampson
Matt Hampson was training with an England Under-21 squad containing future senior internationals Toby Flood, James Haskell and Tom Croft when he suffered paralysis from the neck down in a collapsed scrum

Having seen his burgeoning career cut short, Hampson admitted he questioned why he had become the victim of such a serious freak accident.

"That was the initial thoughts - why me, why me?

"Then I saw other people who had had accidents in different scenarios and they weren't as fortunate as me to have such great support and a great network of friends and family.

"I would see some people in hospital who didn't have one visitor from one week to the next and that's why I count myself very fortunate and I still do."

Although support from family and friends helped Hampson, he also credits his background as a sportsman for enabling him to cope with his change in circumstance.

"I think the mental strength comes from being a rugby player, from being at Leicester Tigers where it is a tough upbringing," added Hampson.

"My family treat me as the same old Matt and still tell me if I am being miserable and tell me to get on with it and keep smiling.

"I have a great network of friends as well who support me and treat me as the same person. I am not different.

Matt Hampson Legends Game
Matt Hampson's former club Leicester Tigers have helped raise funds for his foundation. The club hosted a legends game in 2013 featuring World Cup winners Martin Johnson and Jason Robinson

"I am just paralysed from the neck down - I am no different to anyone else really."

Having come to terms with his injuries, the 30-year-old now feels it was fate that led to his accident, and with it, a greater purpose in life through a charity in his name.

"I think it happened for a reason and I said this to my Dad - this will make me a better person.

"I don't think I initially believed that, but I am just starting to now and I do think it has made me a better person.

"I do think about people a lot more and try and help people as much as possible."

The Matt Hampson Foundation
'We help people get busy living again after a life altering injury. Whether by helping them get back into sport or just assisting in making adjustments to their new life we are there to help and support them on their chosen path. All our beneficiaries are getting busy living and we are very proud of this fact.'
The Matt Hampson Foundationexternal-link

One of those Hampson has helped is Harve Iradukunda.

Iradukunda was a Rwandan refugee who was hit by a car and left paralysed while playing football on the street in South Africa.

The Matt Hampson Foundation paid for Iradukunda to be flown to a Paris hospital, to be reunited with his mother and brother in France.

"Honestly I don't know what I would have done without the Matt Hampson foundation," he said.

"They saved my life."

Hampson said he believes the foundation has helped approximately 200 people since its founding, by offering advice and financial support to injured sportsmen and women, and their families.

Among those to have been supported by the foundation are Rio Paralympic hopeful Harriet Little, and skier Anna Turney, who competed for Britain in the 2010 Vancouver and 2014 Sochi Winter Paralympic Games.

"She [Turney] was actually in Stoke Mandeville with me," said Hampson.

"She sort of encompasses what the 'Get Busy Living' slogan is all about really, to go out and live a life after a catastrophic injury.

"She is living proof you can live a good life and she is doing amazingly well."

Anna Turney
Anna Turney, who competed at the Vancouver and Sochi Winter Paralympic Games, was in Stoke Mandeville hospital at the same time as Matt Hampson

Hampson now hopes to open the first 'Get Busy Living!' Centreexternal-link near Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire.

The centre will be a place where seriously injured athletes can receive treatment and support each other through the rehabilitation process.

"We have got planning in and we are just waiting for that.

"We are in limbo at the moment but we want it done yesterday - that is what I am like.

"My approach to rugby is the way I lead my life - always wanting to improve and always wanting bigger and better things.

"That is what I was like as a rugby player and that is what I am like as a fundraiser now."

Hampson is unsure exactly how much he has raised to help injured sportspeople over the past decade - "we spend it - we don't like to have money in the bank" - but it is believed to be well over £1m.

Though determined to continue his work to help others who find themselves in the situation he was suddenly thrown into, 10 years on from his injury he has rather more mundane plans for the weekend.

"Well, it's Mother's Day on Sunday so I will be with my Mum I'm sure and I will be with my family.

"I don't think I will be celebrating but I don't think I will be wallowing in self-pity either.

"It will be another normal day and I'll be celebrating what a great family I have and a great Mum I have as well."

Matt Hampson
Matt Hampson, pictured before his injury, will be spending the ten-year anniversary of his accident with his family for Mother's Day

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