As Pat Culley lies in a Boston hospital bed paralyzed from the chest down with a spinal cord injury suffered last Saturday during a match against Boston, his teammates from the Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Football Club try to prepare for their next match back in Aspen.
And it is an agonizing juxtaposition.
The Gents tasted this as a group Tuesday evening at Rio Grande Park in Aspen, their first practice since Culley’s injury at Franklin Park in Dorchester, Mass.
“Everyone’s depressed and everyone’s taken it to heart,” Rata Going, a veteran Gents backline player, said Wednesday evening. “It’s pretty bad – you have that hollow feeling in your chest, if you know what I’m talking about.”
Compounding matters for the 25-year-old Culley, on Monday he developed pnuemonia, and on Tuesday he contracted the E. coli infection. He remains in the trauma unit of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston with family members, according to Aspen head coach Mick Melrose.
While Aspen enters its regular-season USA Rugby Super League finale against OMBAC (Old Mission Beach Athletic Club of San Diego) with the best record in the land at 6-0, it’s hardly OMBAC or the winning streak that the Gents are concered with. That much is obvious.
“Everyone was devastated,” said Going, a New Zealand native who was on the field when Culley went down awkwardly in a pileup Saturday.
“And it’s still going to be there, that feeling of last week and seeing our friend lying on the field. It was hard to get enthusiastic on Tuesday but we tried to rally together. And pretty much we asked Mick what Pat wanted us to do,” Going continued.
“And Mick told us that Pat wanted us to continue. And win it all.”
At 3 p.m. on Saturday at Rio Grande Park, the Gents kick off with OMBAC, which is tied for the third-best record in the league at 5-1.
There’s no telling how the Gents can – or will – respond.
“There’s still a certain amount of shock and more so concern for Patrick and how he’s doing,” said coach Melrose, who is in touch with Culley’s family. “We’re always looking for good news. but there’s no such news at the moment.
“The doctors spoke to his family [Wednesday] morning and being careful not to paint too optimistic a picture or too dark a picture, he said it’s going to take a year before they can begin to know what kind of recovery, if any, he may have [from the spinal cord injury]. It’s going to be a very, very long-term injury,” Melrose continued.
First from Culley himself, and then through his brother, Melrose said the message from Culley remains, “Continue on.”
“It’s never easy to talk about things in terms like these,” said Melrose, “but the general consensus on the team is that we want to keep going, keep playing. It’s not going to be an easy thing, and it’s going to be my job to keep us going in a positive direction. But there’s no telling how that could play out. It’s not a definite thing.”
Going, who played on all six of Aspen’s national championship teams and last year’s team that saw the streak ended, agreed:
“Just knowing that Pat does want us to carry on as a team does touch you, does give you motivation. I don’t know how it’s going to go on Saturday, but we’re gonna be thinking of Pat, I know that. We’re not sure how we’re gonna pull together as a team, but for myself, I know I’m gonna go out and pretty much play my heart out for my teammates, and for Pat.”