In April 2017, the former No 8 Ed Jackson broke his neck after diving into a swimming pool, he had to be resuscitated three times and in one moment his life changed forever.
At that point, Jackson was in a period of his professional playing career where he had “relaxed into it” to use his words. He was enjoying his rugby, he had “everything in context” and had just signed a contract for an additional two years with Cardiff Blues.
In the days, weeks and months since, the 30-year-old, has shown the type of mental resilience and positivity that few possess whether they are faced with a life-altering situation like his or not.
Ahead of the Restart Weekend 2019, the former player walked in to the Sky Sports studio to join Will Greenwood and James Gemmell for a special podcast and defied doctors’ protagonists to do that.
- Click here to listen to our Ed Jackson, Restart Rugby special
“At the end of probably week four or five [post-accident], if somebody had offered me the chance to use a wheelchair for the rest of my life but be independent, I would have bitten their hand off,” said Jackson on the podcast.
“I still didn’t have proper use of my arms or hands, I couldn’t look after myself and I couldn’t feed myself.
“The fact that I was going to walk again really didn’t come into consideration for a good couple of months. First of all I was told that because of level of my injury, it wasn’t an option. We were hoping to just get the use of my arms back so that I could be independent.”
“People ask me how I stay so positive considering that you’ve gone from being a professional athlete to now having to take 10 minutes to get up the stairs or limping around.
“If it’s a bit cold I can’t use my hands anymore so I have to get people to open the car for me – those sorts of things. But, it’s because I got my head around what it could have been and how much worse it could have been.
“Everything since that point has been a bonus and I’m just happy that I can walk in here and talk to you, even though it is with a limp, it puts a smile on my face.”
“I’m a lot further down the line than I ever thought I would be. I’ll never forget that and I appreciate that. There’s a lot of people who have been involved in that process.”
Greenwood, like all taking in Jackson’s words and witnessing his fortitude, commented on the ‘extraordinary mental strength’ of the young man. So what does Jackson himself attribute his level of resilience to?
“It’s a combination of things. Maybe it’s a bit of luck of character in the sense that I was always pretty laid back. But, in saying that I had some very, very dark moments in those first couple of weeks,” reflected the former No 8.
“Dark thoughts, things that I will never want to think again. When you’re lying there at night and your friends and family all have to leave – you’re in intensive care, you can’t sleep because you can’t swallow your own saliva so they have to come and put suction tubes down your throat, you can’t go to the toilet for yourself and the alarms are constantly going off. Some of the thoughts that go through your mind then are pretty scary.
“People say that 80 or 90 per cent of thoughts that go through anyone’s head in a day are negative, it’s a way of protecting themselves. If you’re thinking that everything this rosy all of the time, then you’re going to put yourself in danger and that certainly was highlighted at that time.
“I soon came to understand that if I kept on dwelling on things that I couldn’t affect like what had happened to me or thinking too far down the line as to where I would end up, all that was doing was putting myself in a negative mindset right then.
“And, that was stopping me doing what I could in that moment to get better. So I soon learnt to stay present in the moment and came up with distraction tactics, spending hours just doing things I could to get better, even like thinking about moving my toe.”
“One of the things that used to keep me happy every day was the rugby boys coming in and being typical rugby boys. You want to be treated normally. The rugby boys would come in and chuck some juggling balls on your chest and say, ‘come on mate, have a crack at this’ or raid the chocolate drawer that had been brought for me because they knew that I couldn’t eat it.
“It was funny, after a week or so I realised that it was just front rows coming in to see me and after a while or so I realised that they sat the other way, just going through the hamper that I’d been bought. At night, when I was having negative thoughts I knew that there were people coming in and there were people to get better for.”
Jackson started to document his journey through a blog – Ed Jackson 8 – he used voice notes to record his thoughts and started to document everything from day six onwards.
From voice notes to an iPad that he could touch with his knuckle, the response was astounding. It gave him another outlet, and another avenue to aid his recovery, as others who had been through the same or similar situations, reached out to him.
The discussions with them became a massive part of his rehabilitation, Jackson came to believe in the strength of a link between his mind and his body, and it’s just one reason why he’s now ardent in his desire to help others.
It lifted a huge weight off the former No 8’s mind and, as a charity, their work with rugby players is wide-reaching and vital.
From financial and practical support to players and their families during challenging times, to help with the cost of medical treatment, rehabilitation equipment, counselling, education and career transition.
Round 19 of the Gallagher Premiership is dedicated to Restart Rugby – every penny raised will help players directly and go towards providing them with the assistance that they need. Two in three players post-retirement admit to periods of depression and Jackson is incredibly passionate about the work that he does with the charity.
A new personal work pursuit is his blossoming career in the world of broadcasting, reporting on the European competition, where he gets to “go and interview his mates” and does so with the ease and proficiency of someone with many more years of experienced in the industry.
Jackson’s approach to his work, particularly when speaking to players when something hasn’t gone well or they have played badly, is influenced by his perspective as a former player and by his appreciation of the mental side of the game.
“No one wants to play badly, no one wants to look stupid but you have to [as a reporter] accept the fact that it’s happened or that they have done that,” noted Jackson. “So, you make the observation but then you also explain that they must be feeling hellish inside.
“There’s no point in adding fuel to the fire in that situation, especially for younger players. The way to go about it sometimes is to joke about it. You look at the Freddie Burns incident or the Jacob Stockdale incident and things like that… they don’t want to do that.
“I take it back to when I was in hospital. I didn’t want to be there and I didn’t want to feel like that. But, it was when people came in, and the boys took the mick out of the situation, all of a sudden it made me feel better about it. It hadn’t changed it but it made me feel better.”