Eight consecutive cracks, I remember it with such clarity. Rag dolled upside down, my chin pressed up against my chest and a collective tonne of muscle and grunt forced through my spine. A burning sensation shot from behind my ears, down my neck and into my left arm. I knew at that moment my professional rugby career was over. Everything I had worked for, everything I had achieved, my dream and purpose; lost as a consequence of an illegal tackle.
The subsequent three years were dark. I became my own worst enemy and I fell into a vicious depression. I became an insomniac and a plethora of vices and addictions took a hold of me; I abused alcohol, drugs and sex. I had lost my sense of purpose and direction; I couldn't see the point of carrying on - the bulletproof rugby player was mortal after all. Depression is the opposite of vitality, not happiness. I knew I had to be productive but I couldn't break the unexplainable vicious circle I found myself in.
Home quickly became a gallery of poignant memories and reminders of my failings as both a rugby player and now a 'normal, healthy adult', so I decided to drop everything and move to Australia to start a new chapter and hopefully find myself - unbeknown fate had a painful lesson in store. I sold everything I owned and within three weeks I had landed in the land down under.
I began working as a concreter in Sydney and after months of graft in the summer sun I headed to the tranquil Melbourne peninsula. This became the setting for the single most sobering and reality shattering experience of my life, a high impact car crash right on my door step.
First I heard the screech of the tyres, then the haunting sound of the collision, followed by the percussive scatter of debris and glass strew along the asphalt. Then silence. I reached the end of my drive way to see a car that had been shunted into a tree with such force, that the trunk towered over the driver in an almost threatening manner. The woman inside suffered facial trauma so severe to the extent one of her eyeballs had come free from its socket. I applied what little first aid I knew and treated her for shock, she was coherent, but I was out of my depth. I remember thinking I couldn't let her realise the extent of her injuries, so I asked her to sit on her hands and tried to down play the reality of her condition in an attempt to reassure her.
On the other side of the road was an old vintage car. So mighty was the impact that the car now lay upside down on its roof and was expelling petrol at a rapid rate. In action films a petrol leak is enough incentive for a car to explode twenty foot in the air, but I was none the wiser and thought I had to act quickly. I ran over to the car, cutting my bare feet on the glass and metal, and tried to break free the man stuck inside. I clenched my teeth, sunk my body weight and used every last ounce of strength I could muster, but I couldn't break free the door. By now a crowd of neighbours had gathered and with the help of a crowbar, a trio of us eventually persuaded the door to open wide enough for me to get inside and carry him to what I assumed was a safe distance.
The man's skull was diagonally split from the back of his head right through to his hairline, leaving a void just big enough to make his brain visible. I sat back on my knees and propped his lifeless body against mine and began to compress his wounds; I tried to shallow my breathing to prevent distressing him further and offered words of encouragement to try and keep him conscious. In that moment I was eerily calm, although I remember feeling overwhelmingly inadequate - I just wanted everybody to be okay. The paramedics arrived and instructed me to stabilise his head and spine as we got him onto the stretcher and into the ambulance - just before the ambulance doors were closed, he took me by my hand and began crying. He thanked me for saving his life.
I'm utterly sure I didn't save his life, but the sentiment was enough to make me break out in tears and squat to the floor. Emotion had cut through me like scythe and I was overcome with feelings of regret and sadness - guilt even. In the years to follow, I changed my life for the better; and perhaps most importantly the two people involved made a full recovery.
10 days later I was back in the UK and enrolled at university to pursue a career in clinical psychology with the ambition to study neuroscience; I graduate in two years. The experience I had that day served as a catalyst for me to find a new direction in life and it gave me such impetus to better myself and cast away my former demons.
I still have bad days, occasionally bad weeks, but I'm in a place now where I know my own mind - and to an extent can manage my mental health. I now have control over my life which is the factor that I believe makes me most happy, but importantly I'm also incredibly grateful too, as I've seen how fragile and ephemeral life can be. Now, I just want to help people.
Life Less Ordinary is a weekly blog series from The Huffington Post UK that showcases weird and wonderful life experiences. If you've got something extraordinary to share please email firstname.lastname@example.org with LLO in the subject line.Suggest a correction