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Moulton's Sheppard battles back from adversity

15 November 2013

  • Young fly half Sheppard battles back from brain tumour
  • Injuries no match for Moulton College's impressive No. 10
Harry Sheppard

Photo: RFU Archive

When Moulton College and Northampton Saints academy fly half Harry Sheppard was knocked out while on tour in France in 2009 with his school Ravens Wood, little did he suspect the effect it would have on his life.

Scans were administered in search of a fractured cheekbone which revealed a solid chin intact, but also revealed something far more serious that a 14 year old was going to have to take on that granite chin. One month later, and after a series of tests, Sheppard was diagnosed with a brain tumour.

Four years on, and after a nightmare run of bad luck, Sheppard spoke with In At The Side about his ordeal. 

In 2009 Sheppard was captain of the Kent Under 14s side, and a member of the Saracens EPDG squad, before everything “came to a halt”.

“I was on tour in France with my school when I was knocked out in a tackle and taken to hospital with a suspected fractured cheekbone,” recalls Sheppard.

“During routine scans, although the results showed no damage to the cheekbone, what did show up was a blemish on my brain. As advised by the Hospital in France, I had this investigated further when I returned to England.

“Following a series of scans and tests, it was in April 2009 that I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Ever since the diagnosis, from that day I was removed from all contact sports, consequently meaning that training and playing rugby was impossible.

Harry Sheppard

Photo: RFU Archive

“It was then in June 2009 that I underwent the surgery to remove the tumor at Kings College Hospital in London. Thankfully the operation was a huge success and the tumor was a rare Grade 1 benign tumor which, more significantly, meant that I could make a full recovery and the tumor had no real chance of returning.”

He went on: “After an extensive six month rehab process carried out by the hospital and Saracens, I was allowed to return to training in December 2009 as long as a head guard was worn during training and playing!

“Despite being back playing, it was clear that confidence and fitness levels had suffered dramatically and it would take a lengthy period of time to recover to the player I was before. After a hard pre-season with Saracens, county and club all was going well until I was dealt another blow, this time in the form of an ankle break in October 2010 while playing for my school.

“After another four months out following surgery on the ankle, my confidence and fitness levels had now fallen even lower, but I kept battling back to fitness. It was due to this lack in confidence and clear decrease in fitness and playing ability, I was released by Saracens in May 2011. This perhaps was the hardest hurdle I had to overcome of them all as it left me devastated.”

Harry Sheppard

Photo: Northampton Saints

“In September 2011 I was given the opportunity to trial for Northampton Saints EPDG and I think I did myself proud in that trial and was given a huge confidence boost when I was asked to stay on.

“As hoped, I was once again selected for my county (Kent) and played a part in the London and South East grading games. Despite playing OK – though not as well as I had hoped – I decided that the following week, in order to get some extra game time that I would play for my club, when disaster struck again.

“This time I was late tackled and landed awkwardly and consequently broke my collar bone, thus ending any opportunity of being selected for further representative honours. Again I worked hard and regained fitness when I received a major boost and was moved into the Junior Saints Academy in December 2011, where I am currently in my final year. “

Sheppard is currently in his final year at Moulton College studying for an extended diploma in sport, and is captain of the College’s 1st XV.

Whilst it would be easy for someone with such a rotten run of bad luck to accept defeat, Sheppard has used the setbacks as motivation to achieve his goals and more of an appreciation of what he has rather than what he hasn’t.

He concluded: “I do feel that it has changed my prospective on rugby and life in general in a sense that it allowed me to focus and be more determined to reach my goals.

“What I appreciate most is the fact that i was given a second chance and being able to continue playing rugby despite what had happened.

“It helps me to appreciate life a little more and not take anything for granted because things could have turned out very different for me and playing rugby or any other kind of sport could have been removed from my life completely.

“Something I haven't mentioned yet is also the commitment and support that my family have shown to me throughout the experience and how that at times has been a key aspect as to why I continued to carry on and battled back to playing.”