Real Life

EXCLUSIVE: How former NRL star Nathan Stapleton isn’t letting quadriplegia ruin his life

''This injury doesn't define our family.''
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For former NRL star Nathan Stapleton, Father’s Day this year was all about being gifted a second chance at life and spending it with his two sons.

“The most special part of being a loving dad for me is being able to see my boys Harry and Angus every day,” Nathan, 32, tells Woman’s Day.

“The way that Harry storms into my room with a big smile on his face no matter what – it’s enough to cheer up anyone’s day. And with Angus, I get cuddles and kisses.”

On April 9, the former Cronulla Sharks fullback became a quadriplegic after suffering a near fatal tackle while playing country rugby in West Wyalong.

The couple are grateful for the support they’ve had from the sporting community.

(Image: Phillip Castleton)

Pronounced dead for 16 minutes before being revived, life is now very different for the Stapletons.

“I’ve always been a physical, hands-on dad. Now I can’t do that [but] I’m starting to realise words have the same effect to our boys,” says Nathan.

Among all the local town folk on the day of his accident were Nathan’s two biggest reasons to pull through – beloved wife Kate, 31, who was six months pregnant with their second child, Angus, and the couple’s now 23-month-old son Harry.

Nathan survived, and his extraordinary fighting spirit made the dedicated ICU staff at Sydney’s Prince of Wales Hospital determined he would get his wish – to be at Kate’s side to welcome the arrival of their precious baby boy.

Harry and Angus are already the best of friends.

(Image: Phillip Castleton)

Incredibly, Nathan was wheeled to the Royal Hospital for Women next door and saw Angus John’s arrival on July 1, 2022, weighing in at 4.1kg.

“The ICU nurses have been our biggest advocates and they’re so kind and supportive,” says Kate. “When you see them every day, it’s hard not to create a friendship with such genuine people.”

For now, Kate and the boys have relocated to Sydney from the family’s sheep and cattle property in the Hilltops Region in the south-west slopes of NSW so they can be near Nathan while he remains in ICU.

Now able to be in a motorised wheelchair when he’s not in his bed, Nathan can also spend time at this temporary base near the hospital – which is where he’ll be for Father’s Day.

Nathan played 61 games for the Sharks.

(Image: Supplied)

“We’ll have a family lunch and he can watch the boys play and hang out, and [they can] give Nath nice little presents. As long as we’re out of the ICU for the day,” Kate smiles.

And for Nathan, who’s been with his wife for 15 years, as long as he continues to be surrounded by those who love him, then nothing else matters.

“There are probably not enough words to describe what Kate is to me,” he says.

“We’re each other’s best friend. She’s been our family’s rock throughout this whole thing. I couldn’t have got through this without her. She’s seen me at my worst but she’s bought out the best.”

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As they prepare for many more months and years of therapy and rehabilitation, and despite the unimaginable likelihood that Nathan could be on a ventilator for the rest of his life, for now it’s all about making special new memories together – and remaining positive.

“You can either sit there and feel sorry for yourself and create an atmosphere where everyone feels they have to come to your level, or you can try and find the positive out of a bad situation,” says Nathan.

“The support my family and Kate’s family have shown [has] given me strength that I didn’t think I had.”

Kate has already seen that reflected back in their eldest son.

Nathan played 61 games for the Sharks.

(Image: Getty)

“He was confused at the beginning but Nath is still Dad to Harry and that’s all he sees,” she shares.

“The chair is nothing [to him], and he sits up with Nath who reads him books and they watch YouTube together.”

And Nathan has just a few simple wishes for his beloved boys.

“I want my boys to grow up strong and healthy and be resilient. This injury doesn’t define who we are and we have the choice to be happy,” he says.

“We’ve learned to live with it and our boys aren’t going to know any different. Life for them is going to be great.”

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