Virginia Man Makes Remarkable Recovery From Rugby Injury

A northern Virginia dad and rugby player is turning his tragedy on the field into a way of giving back.

Gary Coetzee spends most of his days improving his balance and strength, working with both physical and occupational therapists at MedStar National Rehab Center in McLean.

The 50-year-old Great Falls father of two suffered a devastating blow in a rugby match last year.

"It was a freak accident and something that never really happens in rugby," Coetzee said.

Coetzee's been playing rugby since he was 5 years old. He grew up in South Africa and played semi-professionally in France.

On Nov. 17, 2013, Coetzee dove head first after a ball. The impact broke his neck.

"And it must've been at a bad angle or something, and I broke my neck pretty high up," he said.

Coetzee was taken to Inova Fairfax Hospital.

He couldn't move any part of his body and doctors weren't sure if he'd ever be able to again.

His wife Theresa, and their two children, rushed to the hospital to be by his side.

"And I said, 'Can I just see him please?'" Theresa said tearfully. "And I went up to him and, 'I said we're going to get through this.' … I just knew he needed to know I was there and he had support."

That support and Coetzee's determination led to a remarkable recovery.

Within a few days Coetzee started moving his fingers. Then a month after the accident, he stood up on his own.

Shortly thereafter he began walking. Theresa recorded the rapid progress.

Today Coetzee walks on his own. While he struggles a little with his balance, he has not let that slow him down.

He started coaching rugby, and he’s using his sport to help others with spinal cord injuries. He just hosted his first charity tournament with his Great Falls Youth Rugby players, and he's planning another tournament for next year.

It's all to spread his message of resilience and hope.

His advice to others suffering from similar injuries?

"Don't give up. Do as much as you can for yourself," Coetzee said. "I think it's working as hard as you can and more. That is really, really important."

Click here to learn more about Coetzee's efforts to raise money for others recovering from spinal cord injuries.

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