Claudia MacDonald, England scrum-half, was brought to tears by the idea of not playing for four weeks rugby in November.
She has had to deal with the fact that she missed the Red Roses’ World Cup campaign and lost her status as a professional player in rugby.
MacDonald was getting ready for the fall internationals with England at 2021’s end when she suffered a neck injury.
26-year old took the ball from a line-out and was thrown backwards. She felt her head compress against her chest, but she didn’t realize the extent of the injury.
MacDonald thought it was a soft tissue problem and won a record against New Zealand, the world champions at the end October.
She was there when England beat the Black Ferns once more the next week, and she then scored two tries against Canada.
MacDonald believed she was at the top, but this match could be her last.
“Some days I feel angry, other days I am in denial”
MacDonald was suffering from “scary” symptoms on her left side and had traveled with England to the hotel in the days leading up to their last autumn Test against the United States.
The Red Roses medical team informed her that she required an MRI. She would not be able to play for approximately a month.
MacDonald shares his thoughts with BBC Sport: “At that point, you’re in November. I thought I wasn’t going to play for four weeks after playing some the best rugby I’ve ever played – all my desire was to play rugby.”
“I can still remember crying at the thought of not being able to play for four weeks.”
MacDonald was informed that she would be missing Wasps’ historic match against Harlequins at Twickenham shortly after Christmas. She believed she would return to the pitch in January.
The pattern of waiting to be able to return and then being unable to continued for three to four more weeks, until doctors realized that it would take longer for an injury to heal.
MacDonald was diagnosed with an acutely prolapsed disc and another bulging disk. She has been told that she will recover in 12-18months or maybe not at all.
Although the versatile back can play on the wing as well, he has been training non-contact with Wasps. However, he says that the uncertainty surrounding the injury “runs around your head”.
She continues, “Some days it knocks your for six.”
“Some days it makes me mad, some days it makes me angry, some days it makes me sad, and some days it makes my head hurt. But, I still believe I can play, and that my neck is perfectly fine, especially when I’m training.
“Some days I get excited and look forward, but other days it’s hard to be excited.” It can be anywhere.
It is a difficult decision to not have surgery
MacDonald was offered options by multiple surgeons. One surgeon suggested she could have two operations, while the second indicated that her rugby career would be over.
Last, the best and safest option for a person, not just a player of rugby, was not to have surgery.
This would mean that her neck would need to heal naturally before she could play rugby again, something that may never happen.
Recovering to play could mean that she is unable to continue playing. This would make it impossible for her to accept a full-time England contract. It would also mean she would have no choice but not take up the Red Roses’ Six Nations campaign, October’s World Cup, and her full-time England contract.
She explains, “I decided not to have surgery.”
“I was aware of the decision I was making. “I was certain to say goodbye to the Six Nations, possibly the World Cup, and potentially rugby forever.
“It was hard, but it is now done.”
Career change at a crossroads
MacDonald would be essentially unemployed without the contract. England offered MacDonald psychological support and she doesn’t mind that she has to end her contract. They were designed to support Red Roses’ dominance in the world game.
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She says, “I completely respect that there are limited resources.”
“The contracts were created to support women who will be going to the World Cup. This is why England is where they are today in terms development and progress.
MacDonald would have liked to be part the current, successful Women’s Six Nations campaign in England.
MacDonald is instead attending interviews for job opportunities because she believes that although she has always wanted to play professional rugby, it may not be possible.
She is “at a crossroads”.