At 30, Hughes is the youngest player to go public. His diagnosis is thus different: brain injuries and post-concussion syndrome, rather than dementia with probable CTE, but neurologists have told him that he is on the same path as the others. If so, and little is safe with the brain, it is only a matter of time.
Hughes was a muscular and elusive runner, whose preferred position was center. He represented Wales in all age groups and made his debut for the Dragons, in Newport, the city of his birth, at age 20 in 2010. He quickly established himself and was voted Player of the Year in his first full season. .
In 2014 he moved to Bristol mid-season, before signing a two-year contract with Exeter that summer. He was unable to establish himself with the Chiefs and returned to the Dragons, initially on loan, in October 2015. He retired due to his brain injuries in 2018, having played 119 times for them.
His story, that of a rising star whose career began to falter, no doubt in part due to his concussions, is moving and reveals much about the typical luck of a professional gamer. “For me, I think the biggest problem around concussions was attitude,” he says. “It was often treated as a weakness if you don’t dust yourself off and move on. So naturally you see a lot of expert players just getting up and moving on, regardless of how they feel. Ultimately, it is their job and no player wants to lose their job. “
Hughes is now a financial advisor. He cannot pursue his ambition to be a professional pilot, for which he obtained a license. Motion sickness is one of his symptoms, which prevents him from flying. He also referees and reacts quickly when he sees a head injury, but notes with alarm the occasional abuse from coaches when sending a potentially shocked player from the field.
Spence is on the other end of the spectrum from Hughes. At age 44, he is the oldest of the initial plaintiffs. It’s also the lowest profile, but as such its case is poignant too. How many more like him can there be?
He played age group rugby for England as an open flank, before spending his career at Leicester, Gloucester and Rotherham, playing 32 Premiership matches with the latter in the 2000-01 and 2003-04 seasons. He also played for France and represented Yorkshire, twice winning the county championship with them.
He was a community coach at RFU for almost 10 years and now teaches physical education and French in a high school. He describes symptoms of cognitive decline dating back to 2012. One of the first examples saw him leaving home to pick up his children from daycare, but driving to one of the schools he was training at to schedule a session. As he did so, he realized that there was no one there. It was in the medium term. Only then did he remember that he was destined to pick up his children.
Other typical symptoms include problems with your speech, confusion and uncertainty in the car, and extreme mood swings. “I used to be the life and life of the party,” he says, “but I feel like that side of me is lost forever.”
The uncertainty of his forecast also corrodes him. He speaks of relief from the diagnosis but great fear for the future. “My neurologist said I could get pretty sick in the next 10 years or it could be a steady decline for the next 30. The idea of not seeing my children grow up, not seeing my grandchildren, or walking my daughter down the hall is something. unbearable . “
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