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Written by: Karen Gasbarino-Knutt
On April 18, 2015, ASM Clermont Auvergne, top team in the Top 14 of France Rugby, played the Saracens of the English Premiership in the European Rugby Championship semi-final match. The finals in the ERC are anticipated by rugby fans; it’s a fantastic showcase for the best teams from France and the UK at the end of their prospective seasons.
Jamie Cudmore, a Canadian Rugby icon after a decade on the pitch and lock for ASM and Team Canada, found himself knocking heads with big Saracens and England number 8 Billy Vunipola midway through the match.
Cudmore was removed from the pitch for a blood injury. He was given stitches and a Head Injury Assessment (HIA) by team doctors. It was determined that he should not return to the game. Cudmore was invited to remove his boots.
Not long after, team doctors asked Jamie if he’d like to return to the match and of course he said he would – his number one priority at that moment being to secure a win. When Cudmore reappeared on the pitch, his wife Jennifer had her doubts. She watched from the stands nervously as Jamie carried on tackling and clearing the ruck as he’s famous for doing.
Two weeks later: May 2, 2015, ASM faced fellow popular French club Toulon in the final. Jamie Cudmore was given the green light to play.
As with two weeks prior, Jamie again found himself “sparked out” by a hit to the head. He was removed from the field of play and assessed; this time he was sick to his stomach. But again, after a few minutes, he was asked to return to the match. Cudmore completed the game even though he felt symptoms of concussion. Online chatter of ASM rugby supporters watching at home agreed that Cudmore seemed out of it for the last few minutes of the final.
Cudmore spent the next two months in a state of confusion and upset; he was lethargic, light and noise sensitive, an insomniac though exhausted, and depressed. It became clear that Jamie was experiencing the symptoms of Post-Concussion Syndrome. Both Jamie and Jennifer were clear that his situation was mismanaged; he should not have continued play on April 18 nor should he have laced up for the final on May 2.
With his eyes set on captaining Rugby Canada’s World Cup efforts that coming September, Jamie worked hard on his recovery. Rugby Canada was instrumental in supporting Jamie’s recovery during pre-cup training. With countless hours of rehabilitation, he suited up to appear in his 4th Rugby World Cup for Canada in 2015.
Post World Cup, Jennifer and Jamie set out on a mission to educate the rugby world on the impact of concussions and formed the Rugby Safety Network (RSN), a Foundation that will support the international rugby community through concussion awareness. They saw a need to provide educational opportunities and resources to players, coaches, on-field medical personnel, referees, and parents, teaching that the signs and symptoms of concussion vary player to player and knock to knock. They aim to provide literature for all stake-holders in the game about the long-term effects of concussion and why one should never continue to play once they’ve experienced that initial knock. This requires a cultural shift, changing the conversation about remaining in the game post-concussion. It is not heroic or beneficial. It is bad for everyone. From their perspective, all unions and teams needed to align with World Rugby’s protocols and adhere to international standards. Resources for further research are needed.
The Cudmores hope to find ways to offer support to the players and families affected by concussion issues via counselling and rehabilitation. Since speaking out, they’ve had stories shared with them of young players who’ve faced throwing in the towel on careers in their infancy because they’ve sustained one too many head knock. No one’s life should be at risk. No one should die playing the sport they love. Like Rowan Stringer, a 17 year-old player from Ottawa, Canada who suffered two hits within days and died at home, and Ben Robinson, a 14 year old player in Ireland who experienced several hits to his head within a single match and collapsed before the end of the game. It is the hope of the Foundation that all coaches, referees and doctors take head injuries more seriously.
Jamie and Jennifer continue to work tirelessly in getting the Foundation off the ground. No easy task. It is pretty much Jennifer’s full time job. Jamie, meanwhile, is now coaching the French team Oyonnax Rugby after having captained the team to a Championship title and subsequent advancement to the coveted Top 14 for the 2017/18 season. He retired the big playing boots in June, feeling at 38 that 12 years and 4 World Cup appearances for Canada, plus a decade with ASM, are indeed very decent notches in a player’s belt. Jamie has also begun speaking to clubs about concussion and how important it is for players to admit when they aren’t well, and how coaches and doctors need to support and nurture this. He especially enjoys speaking to the kids, and he’s certainly welcome as a hero to many players. As an internationally known and tough player, there’s really no one best to hear it from.
There’s growing support within the rugby world for the Cudmore’s initiative, but it’s slow going. Former professional players admit to Jamie their own fears, yet few speak out in public. There is still very much a stigma attached to openly discussing concussions but the Cudmore’s and their ardent supporters all believe that they are slowly but surely whittling away at the thick layer of taboo.
We at Ædelhard celebrate Jamie and Jennifer Cudmore. Jamie Cudmore is a Rugby icon in Canada. He’s the epitome of the gentleman off-field who goes into beast mode on the pitch. He’s a player that comes to mind for us when we think of our hashtag #battletested. We applaud what he and Jennifer hope to accomplish, and we believe fervently that they’ll succeed.
We endeavour to help the Cudmore’s spread the word about concussion education and support. Aedelhard will be offering various benefits to supporters of RSN; these will be announced periodically on our social media, so please look out for them. We are also going to support RSN directly by offering a portion of sales to the Foundation.
There have been few genuine kings of rugby in Canada; Jamie Cudmore certainly is among them. We wish him all the greatest success in this next phase of his career post-playing days. And we wish he and wife Jennifer all the best as they launch their much-needed initiative. We’ll be by their side as it unfolds.