Rugby game to raise funds

In March 1999, Ben Larson’s life changed forever.  Playing in a rugby game for the Verdon College first XV against a combined Cargill-Kingwell team in Invercargill, a tackle went horribly wrong.

The then-16-year-old Larson was put into an awkward position and the end result was tragic.  Larson quickly had to adapt to life as a tetraplegic.

He has every right to be bitter with the sport that has left him wheelchair-bound, but that is far from his outlook.  In fact, when the topic is raised, Larson is quick to defend rugby, saying accidents happen.

“I always say to people I could have got hurt driving home that day,” Larson said.

He said compared to many other activities rugby actually wasn’t as dangerous as many think.  Through better awareness, the number of serious injuries was also dropping, he said.  But another key factor in Larson still holding the sport of rugby close to his heart is the support he has received in helping him deal with life as a tetraplegic.  There is a New Zealand Rugby Foundation in place that supports players who have to deal with life on the back of serious injuries.  At the moment there are 102 in New Zealand who fall into that category.

Larson said the Rugby Foundation was just one call away, and for him the financial support had been a key factor in helping him live independently.  The foundation’s financial aid helped him set up in his own house, as well as contributing to other costs such as studying for university papers.

Various fundraisers are held to come up with the required finances to support the foundation.  One of them is the Spartans 10-a-side tournament, which is organised and run by Dunedin man Shane Waldron.  Every dollar raised from the tournament goes to the foundation.  In its first two years it raised $18,000.  Larson has been a regular at the tournament in Dunedin as a supporter, but he has also been on hand to showcase just who the players were really playing for.

This year’s tournament will be held at Miller Park on Saturday.  Fifteen teams across two divisions – open and over 35s – will take part, as well as four junior teams.  Invercargill’s Star Rugby Club has previously attended but for the past two years Marist has flown the Southland flag.

Larson hoped more clubs or sponsors would emerge from Southland in future years.

“It’s one of our yearly fundraisers, so it is quite a big fundraiser for the foundation,”  Larson said.  “These guys go out there every year and do battle for seriously injured players, so it is really big for the foundation.”

By Logan Savory.  Taken from The Southland Times, 1 February, 2017.