Courageous teenager smiling in the face of the ultimate adversity

Nathan Cubitt in his bedroom with his mother Sue
Nathan Cubitt in his bedroom with his mother Sue
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In November 2011 Nathan Cubitt, 16, was catastrophically injured in a rugby match. Hannah Start finds out how he and his family have coped.

YOUNG sportsman Nathan Cubitt was playing rugby when suddenly his world changed forever.

In a scrum the teenager recalls hearing something snap and then “everything just turned off”.

At 16 he was left paralysed from the armpits down, with movement in just his arms and wrists.

But despite his injuries he has remained cheerful and positive – he even managed to joke with ambulance staff on his way to hospital and try to persuade them to stop for a takeaway.

Nathan has also faced what happened with grit and determination and, together with family and friends, has raised £50,000 for his future needs and equipment to help him be as independent as possible.

Events already held include a ball and Leeds to Liverpool bike ride and this Sunday a second tag rugby tournament will take place with the support of World Cup winner Jason Robinson.

“It is phenomenal the way he has taken it on board,” Nathan’s mother Sue, from Silsden, near Keighley, said. “He just said let’s crack on. He gives everybody else inspiration.”

She adds: ‘He has only had one upset moment. He just asked me if it was his fault.”

But it wasn’t anyone’s fault. It was a freak accident.

At the time, November 2011, Mrs Cubitt was watching her other son Billy, who is now 14, play rugby elsewhere while Nathan was playing in an under- 17s match for Keighley Rugby Union Club.

She was told in a phone call there had been an accident. A second call said the air ambulance was on its way to the ground and Nathan was unable to feel his legs. She got to him just as the helicopter was leaving the pitch.

“I was told, ‘don’t panic there has been an accident.’ That just makes your heart stop,” she said.

Nathan though was able to make light of even this dark situation. It was in the ambulance later on the way to Leeds that he managed to joke and try to get the crew to stop so he could have something to eat.

“You are sitting there thinking about it and he just comes out with something like that. It was brilliant,’’ says Mrs Cubitt.

Nathan needed surgery the next day and was in hospital at Pinderfields in Wakefield for the next six months.

At first the family described it as if a “fog” had descended, but eventually it started to lift.

As well as making their daily trip to see him, they started fundraising with the rugby community and the Nathan Cubitt Trust was launched.

What began with a sponsored Zumba has just grown and grown.

Planning permission has now been granted for an extension to the family’s home to give Nathan his own bedroom, wetroom and living area. A lift is needed to get him between floors and specialist kitchen units would mean he could make himself something to eat and drink.

At the moment he still has to have a bed bath or be taken on a three-hour round trip to his grandmother’s house for a shower.

Two people are also needed to help him even go outside – he can’t enter or leave the house without someone being there to open the door and put down a specially-made metal sheet.

The family want a special chair too that will help relieve pressure on his body and mean he doesn’t have to sit in his wheelchair all day when he is out of bed.

The determined teenager is actively involved in the events, including updating a blog and Twitter.

“He just gets involved in everything and puts his own little twist on things. He is very hands on. He worked for his uncle as an apprentice mechanic, he was always working. He needs to be kept busy, that is what he needs and likes. We try to keep him as busy as we can,” added his mother.

Nathan has also just gained his provisional driving licence which will help him take a major step towards independence.

And there has been real progress as he learns to use his body again. There was good news when after a year Nathan, who was left with no fine motor movement, could very slightly twitch a finger.

Despite the accident rugby also still plays a part in the family’s life and they are full of praise for the support they have received from everyone, particularly people involved in the sport.

Mrs Cubitt’s younger son Billy returned to playing after three or four months.

“As long as he is comfortable with it, that is all that matters,’” she said. “He plays for Nathan now.”

For the family keeping positive is the key.

‘You can get miserable about it but getting miserable is not going to solve it. It has happened and it could have been a whole lot worse. We have still got him and he is still compos mentis,” Mrs Cubitt said.

Nathan’s courage is shown nowhere better than in his tweets and posts on Facebook. A year after his accident he wrote: “What a year it’s been. It has turned my life upside down but I think it has changed me for the good and also it has shown who my true friends are.

“Thank you so much to everyone. Mark thank you so much for all events and helping my mum and dad through this. but any ways no need to look back in the past it’s now time to look to the future and see what the world has to throw at me.”

Just a few weeks after Nathan’s accident his mother posted: “Nathan is a strong individual that has kept the rest of us going. He really is an inspirational young man who makes everyone around him buzz! Even in a wheelchair he’s still kept the same momentum.

“I know Nathan is going to be alright what ever the outcome, he’s a positive, strong willed, inspirational and very very loved young man who wins hearts and smiles and gives it all right back.”


The Nathan Cubitt tag rugby event on Sunday is a follow-up to the first successful tag rugby tournament which was staged last year.

The event, at Keighley Rugby Union Club, will feature a hog roast, bouncy castle, bungee run, mountain biking displays and stalls.

Rugby Union World Cup winner Jason Robinson will also attend and has agreed to play for Nathan’s Keighley Rugby Club U17s team in the event. It costs £30 to enter your team.

Teams wishing to enter, and people willing to donate prizes or help on the day should e-mail or for more information see