Inspiration can come from the unlikeliest of sources. For Hull KR’s Mose Masoe, lying in a hospital bed unable to move after suffering a serious spinal injury in January, the stimulus he needed to walk again came from a paraplegic Rugby League fan called Wayne.
“He just comes in [to the hospital] and he goes ‘Can you feel your hands?’ And I was like “Yeah, I can feel my hands,” Masoe laughs as he speaks to The Sportsman. “And he goes ‘Can you feel people touching your legs?’ I was like ‘Yeah I can feel people touching my legs’ and he was like ‘Well get up mate, stop faking it and get up!’
“This is probably two weeks after my surgery. It just made me laugh and he always said to me ‘You’ll be walking’. I didn't really believe him, I just wanted to be like him in a wheelchair. He inspired me, he kind of knew because of his injury… I’ll never forget that.”
Wayne was right. Nine months after the accident Masoe was taking his first steps, and this week he went to his very first game since the incident. That ‘out of the blue’ visit from a rugby league fan may have been the 31-year-old’s personal filip, but Mose himself provided huge motivation to his Hull KR teammates, who got just their third win of the season with Masoe watching on against Salford on Tuesday.
“It really affected the boys. They thought the worst case. They were just shattered when it first happened and I just had to say to them ‘it could be worse’,” Masoe admits.
“Initially they thought it was really bad, like I was going to not be able to move for the rest of my life, but I just said to them that there are others out there with a lot more problems, I’m lucky enough to have their support. We are all such a close team that it was hard. Not being able to be out there with the boys and playing, it has been my life for the last 14 years.”
Along with his teammates and Wayne, his family played a huge role in his recovery. His wife Carissa was pregnant with their third child and Masoe was desperate to be able to hold his little boy by the time he was born seven months on from suffering the injury in a pre-season game in January.
“I just wanted to be able to hold my son. Just to hold him,” Masoe adds. “When the injury first happened I couldn’t move my hands or pick them up, so I was lying in bed trying to move my arms every day,” he remembers. “Slowly, things would come back and it was like trying to relearn how to tell your body to move.”
It has been a long journey for both him and his family ever since the accident that would change his life forever. He recalls that day, “I opened my eyes and I couldn't feel my legs. I couldn't feel my legs, my arms were spasming, it was quite weird. Somehow I got onto my back and that was probably the last time I saw my legs for six weeks.”
Masoe was rushed to a specialist neurosurgeon at a hospital in Leeds, who gave the news to him straight. He required emergency surgery to relieve the pressure on his neck and was told he would ‘never be back to normal’. “That really helped my mindset because I prepared for the worst. I knew I had to work hard to get back as much as I can.”
Throughout the recovery process, he was surrounded by love and support, especially from his then pregnant wife, Carissa. “She was rock sold throughout the whole thing. I didn't know how she did it. I'd wake up at the hospital in the morning and she’d be there, leaving late at night. Picking up the kids from school, sometimes she’d come back and bring the kids so I could see them. She’s been brilliant since the beginning.”
The injury also provided an opportunity for life to slow down and gave Masoe a chance to get to know his two daughters and bring his family closer together. “We really had to learn how to talk to each other because that is all I could do, lying in bed. I watched TV but there is only so much TV you can watch. I couldn't move, so it was nice just to talk, like, sit down and actually talk to each other. The kids just know I got injured on the field and now it is time for a long recovery. I've said daddy’s never going to be the same again but I'm still going to be daddy. It is no different.”
Despite all the troubles this year has posed, with the injury and the pandemic, now Masoe, his wife and two daughters have another bundle of joy to add to their family. “He is the best thing to have happened to us in 2020. He has been awesome,” he beamed.
It wasn’t just his family who were there to provide physical and emotional support though. He also got help from the Rugby League Benevolent Fund, a charity set up to provide assistance to players who have suffered life-changing injuries. Steve Ball, who works with the fund was pivotal to Masoe’s recovery.
“I had the surgery at night and I woke up in the morning and Steve introduced himself and he said ‘I’m here to help you and your family through this tough time’. He's had a lot of players go through this and he pretty much said ‘I’m going to be your best mate. I'm here to annoy you for the rest of your life. If you ever need anything just call me.’”
The Benevolent Fund didn't stop there. At Masoe’s home they fitted a stairlift, redesigned his bathroom to make it accessible and helped his family get over from New Zealand. Meanwhile, cards and support rolled in from far-flung corners of the world to his hospital bed, while the Rugby League community rallied around one of their own. MND sufferer and fellow former player Rob Burrow donated to Masoe’s fundraiser, while Hull KR vowed to pay him the rest of his contract. But it was a school in East Hull that really made Masoe smile most.
“It was just so nice to know there was so much support for me and my family. I’ve got a box of cards now! Carissa would read me all the cards, and there was a whole class of kids in East Hull, they learnt how to write and speak Samoan and they all wrote cards in Samoan for me, that was really cool.”
Now able to stand on his own two feet, the 31-year-old still has a lot of strength work to complete but hasn’t stopped setting goals for himself. “I just hope to be able to get about by myself. I'm trying to learn how to drive again. I don't know, I haven't tried yet I don't want to put anyone in danger, I’m just trying to do things in physio to help strengthen my legs.”
Inspirational is a word that is so often thrown about, but Masoe’s recovery has been exactly that for so many people. But it turns out you don’t have to be a Super League star to inspire people, you just have to be a Super League fan, like Wayne.