When you think of club Rugby players, most of whom juggle careers with their Rugby commitments, stereotypically you picture players as tradesmen, students or holding a corporate job. Bond University centre Dan Boardman breaks the mould, and his line of work has led to him to a very different experience during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since making the move to the Gold Coast ahead of the 2018 Hospital Challenge Cup season, Boardman has worked as a support worker for Perry Cross. Cross is a bit of a local celebrity on the Gold Coast and within Rugby circles, who has overcome the adversity of an injury sustained in a Rugby game back in 1994, which left him as a C2 ventilated quadriplegic, to become Australia’s first ever motivational speaker on life support, study at Bond University and also travel to the United States as an advisor to the United Nations General Assembly.
A Gold Coast Rugby product, having graduated from The Southport School alongside the likes of Nathan Grey and Nathan Sharpe, it is the Gold Coast Rugby community that continues to look after Cross, with former Gold Coast Breakers/Bond University stalwarts Vitori Buatava and Josh Fuimaono sharing the caring duties with Boardman.
With Perry’s medical condition leaving him highly susceptible to viruses in general, let alone COVID-19, the Bond trio have had to make some serious sacrifices over the past few months as they care for their good mate Perry.
“The situation for Perry at the moment is pretty serious,” said Boardman.
“He was in isolation in his house for eight weeks straight without going outside, it was taxing on everyone. We would go into lock down with Perry for stints and would rotate. Vitori and Josh were doing two-week rosters, whilst looking after their families at home, and the longest I did was three-and-a-half weeks. We’re getting back to more of a normal roster now as the curve flattens.
“Perry chose to stay inside and isolate, which was safe decision for him, he’s going outside a little bit now, we’re going for walks or we’ll go out in the car and I’ll run errands. He is slowly venturing back into the community and seeing his family, which has been really positive, but he won’t able to go back to any kind of normal life any time soon.”
Due to Cross’ injury, his respiratory system is compromised and as such, any form of sickness or virus can be medically very dangerous for him. For Boardman, Buatava and Fuimaono, they’ve all had to be particularly careful with who they interact with and where they go, even when they’re not on duty, to insure they don’t put his health at risk.
However, the trio have worked around the strict guidelines they must follow and have become super competitive in their training regime.
“When we were doing long stints in lock down with Perry, Vitori brought in some dumbbells and we got stuck into some sort of activity every day,” said Boardman.
“We would set challenges, do circuits, see how many burpees we could do in 10 minutes, we just varied things or would try and find work outs online. It was good for our mental health and Perry got around it.
“We had initially spoken about all doing the Gold Coast marathon this year, obviously those plans have changed, but it meant that we’ve all gotten into running. We have apple watches that are all hooked up so even when we stay isolated, we train in ways where we’re all connected. We heckle each other and try and outperform each other.”
Boardman’s work with the disabled happened by chance, when he was struggling to find work whilst playing Sevens for Bond and then head coach and now colleague, Fuimaono, offered him the chance to meet with Cross and become a support worker. A role that Boardman takes a lot of pride in.
“I take so much away from working with Perry,” he said.
“You have to be a certain person to work with the disabled, but I take a massive chunk of joy out of helping someone else live their best life, as independently as they can.
“With Perry in particular, he is a motivational speaker and has a certain view of the world and his life traits line up with where I want to be, we have a similar outlook on life.
“Just being able to help out where I can is so rewarding but it’s also eye opening. You can learn a lot about yourself as well as others.
“I count myself as fortunate, it encourages you to be opened minded. People with disability often aren’t spoken about enough and they just want to be seen as normal people. So I take pride out of the work and helping others live with a level of independency.”
For Boardman, 2020 was shaping up to be a massive year for Rugby. He was coming off the back of his second National Rugby Championship (NRC) campaign with Queensland Country, where he was one of the team’s top performers in the centres, and had recently been invited to train with the Queensland Reds. Having also been named as Bond’s captain for the upcoming Queensland Premier Rugby season, things were looking good for the Lennox Head product.
“It’s been a bit frustrating. Just seeing the gradual progression from Bond improving, through to NRC, training with the Reds, being named Bond Captain and then this virus comes around…
“But I’ve tried to take everything as it comes, I’ve realised a lot about my goals and visions during this time. I’ve got time to grow and develop, I’m still young and I’m hoping we’ll play some Rugby before the end of the year. I’ll just keep trucking along and training hard for the moment.”
One key concern that Boardman will have to address in the coming months, is whether or not he can return to Rugby without putting his work with Cross at risk.
“It’s an issue that has been in the back of my mind,” said Boardman.
“Hopefully we get a start date for return to training soon and then I can work out how to manage that with Perry. Work obviously comes first, but Perry is optimistic and as long as medical advice is adhered to, we will try and find a way to work through it.
“Rugby is close to home for Perry and he is extremely supportive. He loves watching Rugby, catching up about games and he has heaps of mates involved at the top level. We talk about what the future might look like for Rugby and what my visions are. He is always pushing me and motivating me to give it my all.”
For more information on Perry Cross and the Perry Cross Spinal Research Foundation, click here.