Crouching Tiger… The Engaging Story of Matt Hampson

Matt Hampson

You survey the wreckage that is your living room on Christmas morning. The gaudiness of the wrapping paper belies the dullness of the gifts. A DVD? Seen it. Clothes? Don’t like them. Christmas morning is hell.
     For those of you who feel this way, a bit of perspective please. Now this is not a piece dedicated to making you feel guilty about over-indulging on turkey this Christmas period while children starve in the third-world. We’ve all heard Do They Know It’s Christmas?
     This, rather, is a heads up on just how lucky you are, to be able to unwrap your presents yourself. Feel free to over-indulge all you want this Christmas, but if you for a second feel like self-indulging, think of one man.
Matt Hampson was an u-21 England Rugby international when a scrummaging accident in training led to his being paralyzed from the neck down. Long story short, he now cannot breathe independently, is destined to life in a wheelchair, and is a beacon of hope to all who have suffered similar spinal injuries.
A must read

     For the long version of the story, read Engage, the book written by Paul Kimmage. There is no detail spared in this, the Irish Sports Book of the year. In the afterword, Kimmage admits to pushing Hampson in interviews for the book further than a 21 year old quadriplegic ever should be pushed. It shows. The reader is taken into the darkest recesses of the young man’s mind. The endless nights of insomnia while in hospital, nothing to see save the rectangle of ceiling above his bed, nothing to hear bar the gentle whoosh of his ventilator. Hampson never stopped counting those whooshes.
     It’s not just a story of one man’s struggle. Through transcripts of the inquiry into Hampson’s injury we see the toll that it took on his family and his just blossoming relationship. The book is dedicated to the memory of Stuart Mangan, a young man from Cork who suffered a similar injury playing rugby. Hampson found in him an inspirational ally on his road to accepting his own fate. The positive outlook the Fermoy man showed before his untimely death at the age of 26 served to enhance Hampson’s strength of character.
     Other characters in Matt’s journey serve to show the importance of hope and belief to the preservation of the human spirit. The reader is introduced to Matt Grimes and Paul Taiano. Without delving into the details of the book to much, suffice to say both embody the Adidas adage that “Impossible is Nothing”.
Ronan O’Gara and Roy Keane’s single-mindedness. Paul Kimmage’s candour. Paul McGrath’s tragic flaws. In the pantheon of great sporting biographies, the sad aspect of Engage is that its subject never got a sporting chance.
     Matt Hampson’s story is a breath of fresh air which will blast away the cobwebs of self-indulgence in anyone this Christmas. There’s plenty of references to bowels, but no bullshit. Matt’s story doesn’t end on the 395th page of Engage,he continues to be an inspiration to able-bodied and disabled alike.
     Full after Christmas dinner today – in the hope of staving off a food-induced coma – I decided to read the first few pages of Engage on merit of the good things I had heard about it since its publication. Two litres of tea, three helpings of chocolate pudding and several hours later, I’m done. I wouldn’t recommend making tea while reading a book that is literally unputdownable. The minor scalds were worth it. Read this book.
images: (both)

 (First Published 25th December 2011 on

One thought on “Crouching Tiger… The Engaging Story of Matt Hampson

  1. Just finished reading this book and remembered you writing this article. Had to find it and make a comment. Matt Hampson is an unbelievably inspiring person. His story has really put into perspective all the silly things we worry about every day. What bravery and mental strength he has, absolute legend. Everyone can learn from this book. Well done to Paul Kimmage too, excellently done.
    Fair play on this piece, really well written! Keep it up mate!

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