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Tristan Nattrass, 14, to make Saints Wheelchair debut four months after injury

Teenager Tristan Nattrass is set to make his Saints Wheelchair Rugby debut this weekend just four months after the incident that changed his life.

Having started his rugby journey as a seven-year-old with Huntingdon Stags, the Brampton (Cambridgeshire) resident developed into a heavy hitting and pacey number eight.

Tristan caught the attention of Northampton Saints and earned a place on the Club’s Developing Player Programme (DPP).

It was a dream come true for the 14-year-old, who attended a Saints residential camp at Stowe School only last summer, as he harboured a burning ambition to make it with the team he has supported since becoming interested in the sport.

Tristan’s rugby journey, however, was to take an unexpected and devastating deviation following the events of 21 October 2023. After an overnight stay with friends, his mum, Delphine, arrived to collect him the following morning to receive some near-inconceivable news.

“Tristan couldn’t really move,  his legs had sort of stopped working,” recalled his father, Stephen.

Delphine promptly transported her stricken son to A&E in Huntingdon, before moving onto Addenbrooke’s Hospital where he would spend four weeks undergoing a variety of tests.

Tristan was then in the care of Stoke Mandeville Hospital for two months and was discharged a fortnight ago, with his diagnosis still unconfirmed.

“It has been a bit of a rollercoaster as we all adjust to some fairly significant changes,” Stephen added.

“It was really out of the blue. We don’t know what caused it, but it is all about the rehab now and getting him up to a position where he can use his legs properly again.”

Stephen Nattrass

The family believe that the Hitchingbrooke School pupil suffered a spinal stroke, that has caused a T8 spinal cord injury.

“Everything points to a spinal stroke but we’re not 100 per cent sure,” Tristan said.  “The cause of the injury is unsure. I was aching one night and the next morning I couldn’t move.”

Tristan is now a full-time wheelchair user and is set to return to Stoke Mandeville in July for further rehabilitation.

“It can take up to two years or even more for any kind of movement or sensation to come back or not come back,” explained Delphine. “It is not definitive. They cannot tell us where we will be in two years’ time. We are taking it one day at a time. Tristan has always been very positive and pushes the boundaries. 

“The team in Stoke were quite keen to have such a positive and willing person to work with.”

It was during his time at Stoke Mandeville when Tristan was first exposed to wheelchair rugby and tried the sport for the first time. Experienced Saints Wheelchair Rugby player Kascie Higgins was present and signposted him to his Club’s training sessions in Kettering.

Tristan Nattrass of Northampton Saints Wheelchair Rugby
Tristan Nattrass of Northampton Saints Wheelchair Rugby.

“Everything in my upper body ached after my first session,” explained Tristan. “It was good to have a proper source of cardio in a wheelchair. But it was also nice to have people who are supportive around you and challenge you to play. 

“They treat me like an adult, even though I am not. They treat me with respect. They are thoughtful, some of them have been there, they know what I am going through at the moment and they understand.”

Dad Stephen, added: “Disability isn’t the conversation, it is about playing the game.”

After just a couple of training sessions, Tristan will represent Saints in this weekend’s Midlands Development League fixtures, when they take on Norfolk Knights, Leicester Tigers and hosts Coventry Stampede at the Alan Higgs Centre.

Kascie’s father, Jamie Higgins, is Head Coach of Saints Wheelchair Rugby and has played a key role in progressing Tristan to be on the cusp of his competitive debut.

“Tristan joining us at Saints Wheelchair Rugby just reaffirms what our community programmes are for.”

Jamie Higgins, Saints Wheelchair Rugby Head Coach

“Being able to support him to continue to access rugby through the Club in this way is humbling.

“He is showing real ability and it highlights where he engaged in the sport at Stoke Mandeville as part of his rehab. We have probably thrown Tristan into a bit of a whirlwind, but his age and ability from the start has proved his ability to play as part of our WR5s team.

“So, giving him this experience on Saturday is about creating an opportunity in rugby but also to let him experience competitive play with a Saints badge on his chest ahead of the 2024 WR5s season. I am really keen to see how his ability increases the more he plays and learns from his Wheelchair Rugby peers.”

Just 18 weeks after the incident that forced a recalibration of his aspirations of playing for Northampton Saints, Tristan will proudly wear the Club’s crest in competitive action.

It’s a prospect that fills the inspirational youngster with excitement. “After Saturday, whenever I meet someone, I can say that I play for Saints,” he smiled. “Any Saints supporter would want to say that, and the thought of that makes me feel very proud.”

NORTHAMPTON SAINTS WHEELCHAIR RUGBY DEVELOPMENT TEAM
GBWR WR5s Midlands Development League
Saturday 24 February 2024, 10.50am
Alan Higgs Centre, Coventry

(c) Gerry McCrory (1.5)
(cc) Rhys Walden (1.5)
Rob Smith (1.0)
Michael Nixon (2.0)
Ali Crosby (1.5) F
Chris Starsmore (2.0)
Matt Sellars (1.5)
Rhys Sadler (3.0)
Steve Montgomery (2.0)
Gary Callier (4.0)
Tristan Nattrass (2.0)

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