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Academy rugby player returns to field as a coach

Cadet 2nd Class Marc Ward motions March 20 to Air Force Academy rugby players to move the ball down the field. Cadet Ward suffered a debilitating injury during a rugby game in 2003 in a game against the University of California at Berkeley. He lost full use of his right arm for six months, but has since made a full recovery and now coaches as part of the academy rugby team. (U.S. Air Force photo/1st Lt. John Ross)

Cadet 2nd Class Marc Ward motions March 20 to Air Force Academy rugby players to move the ball down the field. Cadet Ward suffered a debilitating injury during a rugby game in 2003 in a game against the University of California at Berkeley. He lost full use of his right arm for six months, but has since made a full recovery and now coaches as part of the academy rugby team. (U.S. Air Force photo/1st Lt. John Ross)

Cadet 2nd Class Marc Ward suffered a debilitating injury during a rugby game in 2003 in a game against the University of California at Berkeley. He lost full use of his right arm for six months, but has since made a full recovery and now coaches as part of the academy rugby team. (U.S. Air Force photo/1st Lt. John Ross)

Cadet 2nd Class Marc Ward suffered a debilitating injury during a rugby game in 2003 in a game against the University of California at Berkeley. He lost full use of his right arm for six months, but has since made a full recovery and now coaches as part of the academy rugby team. (U.S. Air Force photo/1st Lt. John Ross)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AFNEWS) -- When Air Force Academy Cadet Marc Ward took to the rugby field against the University of California at Berkeley in May 2003, the freshman had no idea it might be his last time to play.

With about 18 minutes left in the first half of the game, Cadet Ward made a crushing hit on his opponent midway down the field. His own impact knocked him out for nearly nine minutes, rendering his right arm useless.

"I hit the guy with my neck exposed. He was 260 pounds and I was 195 pounds. I could move my fingers and my wrist. I couldn't drink a drink, it was pretty much useless.

"And then, six weeks later I was able to go like this," Cadet Ward said as he raised his arm about shoulder height.

"And slowly, six months later I was able to go like that," he said, showing a full range of motion in his arm. 

The injury was serious enough to put Cadet Ward on a medical convalescent status for two years. He was reinstated as a cadet in good standing June 1, 2005, and is now a junior.

As scary as the incident was, Cadet Ward remained in high spirits and contributes his attitude to his full recovery.

"When my injury came, I dealt with it pretty good I would say. I always knew I'd be able to move my arm again, despite what multiple doctors or anyone else told me, I always had the best outlook on life I guess. And I knew, no matter what, I would live a happy life," he said. 

After returning to the academy, Cadet Ward still wanted to play rugby but found that even after suffering his debilitating injury, he couldn't change his aggressive style of playing so he decided to hang up his cleats. 

Cadet Ward now heads out to the rugby pitch not as a player, but this time as a coach.

Rugby head coach Capt. John McQuede is comfortable with having Cadet Ward as a coach.

"Cadet Ward has been a tremendous savior for me. As someone just taking over a program, he was initially a player and decided he wanted to move into the coaching realm," he said. "He provides that sort of cadet link between me and the other cadet players."

It's leadership characteristics like the ones Cadet Ward demonstrates, that will lend themselves to his future Air Force career. 

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