Ollie Andrews certainly isn’t one to shy away from a challenge.

From swimming professionally in her teenage years to trying out rugby at the young age of 16, Ollie’s passion for sport has always been prevalent.

So, when Ollie broke her back three years ago, it came as a total shock to all of those involved.

“I was at a training session. I was tackled and fell to the ground. I just got up off the pitch and drove home. But I knew that something wasn’t right. So, I pulled over the car and called my dad and told him to come and pick me up.”

After being rushed to hospital and facing more challenges, Ollie finally went into surgery to have metalwork inserted to stabilise her 3 column spinal fracture over 4 vertebrae.

“I couldn’t sleep laying down. I had to sleep upright with pregnancy pillows. It was so uncomfortable. I wanted to go in for a second round of surgery to get them removed. The doctors don’t normally remove the metalwork from spines because of the complications, so they were pretty reluctant to go ahead.

"But it felt like my body was rejecting the metal. You could feel the metal in my back and it just didn’t feel right. So, I fought for this second surgery.”

This isn’t the first time that Ollie’s persistence and resilience have helped her get through the toughest of times. Previously, she had broken her ankle, so she knew exactly what was happening to her body.

Whilst the doctors were reluctant to operate for a second time, they agreed to put her on the waitlist. But, due to NHS waiting times, this would’ve meant that Ollie would’ve had to wait three years until she could get the metal removed.

“I basically took it into my own hands and set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for private treatment. I had to raise £7500 and we actually raised it in 3 or 4 days.

"Loads of people from the rugby club community donated, and we had an anonymous donation of £1000. Then once you get to a certain amount, more people donate because it doesn’t look like a scam then.

"Getting the second surgery was definitely the best decision I made. Before, I couldn’t walk or run for long periods of time. But literally the day I came home from surgery, I walked into my house on my own. And I was pain free.

"Even my dad was shocked. He couldn’t quite believe it. Usually, he’s quite chilled and doesn’t say much so for him to say something, it highlighted how surprising it was.”

In fact, Ollie’s family have been undoubtedly supportive throughout the entire ordeal. With her brother watching endless episodes of Glee with her whilst she recovered in bed, and her dad playfully tickling her toes in the ambulance (but really making sure that she could still feel them), Ollie’s parents, brother, and sister were there for her throughout.

A supportive and sporty family

And it’s her parents who got her into rugby.

“It was my dad who suggested rugby. He’s a rugby coach, and he played to a high level, so I’ve grown up with rugby throughout my entire life.

"But when he suggested that I give rugby a go, I thought ‘oh don’t be silly’. But I trust his judgement, so I went to a try-out.

"I can remember going to my first session with him in my mum’s rugby boots from the '90s. They had massive studs on them. They were huge, clunky things! The laces were so long I tripped myself up as I walked into the first session.

"It was just an amateur session but afterwards, the coach spoke to my dad and told him to take me up to Belfast to train. So, the week after he took me to Malone. There were about 25 to 30 girls there and I just thought, oh no! I’d never done a contact sport before or been tackled or anything like that, so I was so nervous.

"But I absolutely loved it. I spent the whole way home chatting my dad’s ear off, and I guess the rest is history.

"Even as I was in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, my dad asked if I still wanted to play rugby. Obviously, there have been a few times where I thought I didn’t want to play again. But I recovered reasonably quickly. The more comfortable I got, the more movement I had. So, I couldn’t give up. My life would be so quiet without it.”

Time to start university

Once Ollie had her second surgery, it was time for rest and rehab. As the accident happened just a week before she was supposed to move to Canterbury for uni, it was clear that her first year at CCCU wasn’t what she had initially planned.

But thankfully, she had a solid support system at CCCU. Originally, Ollie had applied for Physiotherapy but after a letter sent from us recommending her to apply for the Sport Scholarship and consider applying for our Sport Therapy and Rehabilitation course, she decided to dedicate her studies to this, causing her to work closely with Colm Gregory, the Programme Director.

When asked how CCCU supported her, she didn’t hesitate to make a few shoutouts to Colm, Laura, and her scholar mentor, Gemma.

“Colm suggested that I do my first year online because he was adamant that I was going to start uni when I was supposed to. He was so supportive. Laura and Colm really advocated for me because, obviously, the course wasn’t supposed to be online. And because I couldn’t get over to Canterbury after my surgery, I thought I wouldn’t have been able to go to uni at all.

"But Colm and Laura really fought my corner, and I was able to do my exams from my bedroom at home. They were fantastic.

"Colm’s also been able to help me with treatment too because he’s still a practising osteopath. I never let anyone else treat me, but I built up a great trust with Colm and eventually let him give me treatment. Also, he has all the knowledge in the world. He literally knows everything.

"And then Gemma Cullen - she’s a super star. She’s been my scholar mentor since my first year. She’s so supportive and an absolute nutter! She’s a friend. She was there for anything I needed, and she helped me get back to playing.

"She also has a rugby background so she knew what I could and couldn’t do. She helped me with delivering strength and conditioning classes with the girls as I was mainly coaching because I couldn’t play.

"Then in my second year, I played here and there whilst coaching. I was also a team manager for the girls on a Wednesday. So, I’d run the warm-up sessions. And Gemma had my back the whole way. I wouldn’t be where I am without her.”

Postgraduate courses and camper vans

The future definitely looks bright for Ollie. Not only has she started her Master’s in Strength and Conditioning, but she’s been elected to be Captain for the rugby team for another year.

“I don’t have a solid plan because plans always change. But I have my head set on converting a camper van and travelling around Europe with my boyfriend after my Master’s.

"I would eventually like to run my own practice, or a gym/rehab centre. But I definitely want to be somewhere sunny!

"Whatever happens, I don’t think I’ll be giving up rugby any time soon.”