All Mose Masoe wants for Christmas is to throw away his crutches.
The 31-year-old prop forward is making remarkable progress in his bid to recover from a severe spinal injury sustained while playing for Hull KR in a pre-season friendly at Wakefield in January.
He has captured the hearts of rugby league fans across the game by his cheery nature and a determination not to be wheelchair-bound by the injury that left him paralysed from the shoulders down.
The 6ft 3in Samoa international is a shadow of the player who weighed 20st at his peak but, amazingly, he is back doing weights at his club, where he remains co-captain.
Mose Masoe takes his first steps unaided just eight months after suffering a serious spinal injury and being told he'd be lucky to walk again. Just incredible! here and see more on @Calendar at 6. pic.twitter.com/xcJdFlL4x1
— Arif Ahmed (@ArifAhmedITV) September 23, 2020
Masoe is motivating himself by taking small steps, some of them literally by attempting to pick his daughters Evie-Rose and Marlowe up from school.
“The girls keep asking me, ‘When are you going to be back to normal?,” he told the PA news agency. “I think they don’t really understand.
“They are used to seeing me injured throughout my career, with knee reconstructions, broken arms, broken legs, I think they are just waiting for me to get up off my crutches.
“I said to them, ‘Dad is going to be like this for a while’ and they ask me if I’m going to pick them up from school today.
The girls keep asking me, ‘When are you going to be back to normal?’ I think they are just waiting for me to get up off my crutches
“I’ll try to walk down there, it keeps me motivated. I’ll probably try today. It takes me about 20 minutes for a 10-minute walk.
“It’s about 800 metres to the school, a bit of a trek but it’s worth it, walking back with the kids. It’s a bit of a goal.”
Masoe’s injury stemmed from an innocuous tackle in the opening stages of the game at Belle Vue.
“I went in for a tackle and missed it,” he recollects. “My neck went into hyper-extension and one ligament snapped in the front and when I landed another snapped at the back.
This man keeps on surprising us. 😍❤️
He’s been a shining light in these tough times and he continues to inspire! pic.twitter.com/CjVr4mjuHA
— Hull Kingston Rovers (@hullkrofficial) September 9, 2020
“The bones in my neck came together and that bruised swelling pinched my cords and stopped most of the signals from my brain. I was essentially paralysed from the shoulders down.”
The native New Zealander underwent emergency surgery at a Leeds hospital before being transferred to the world-renowned Pinderfields spinal unit in Wakefield to continue his rehabilitation.
He returned home in April, a month later took his first tentative steps unaided under the watchful eye of his physiotherapists and is now determined to get rid of his crutches altogether.
“It’s my balance really which is worse when there’s a difference in the ground level, like people’s driveways for example,” he says.
“So walking with crutches helps. I still haven’t progressed to walking unaided but I’m happy where I am now and hopefully after Christmas I’ll be able to walk without crutches.”
Throughout his interview there is no hint of self-pity, only gratitude for the help he has received from day one, in particular from his wife Carissa and the RL Benevolent Fund and its manager Steve Ball, who has become more than just a family friend.
“Steve has been awesome from the beginning,” he says. “He came to see me every day to see if I’m all right or needed anything.
“Pretty much everyone involved in rugby league has always been positive, wishing me all the best, we’ve just been very lucky.”
I know deep down inside, I won’t be back to 100 per cent but I try and get as a close as I can
The inspirational nature of Masoe’s story is matched only by that of Rob Burrow, the former Leeds scrum-half who was diagnosed last December with motor neurone disease but has taken time out of his battle to support his old adversary.
“He’s massive,” Masoe says. “His battle has got no cure, I’m very fortunate to be able to try and get through what I’m getting through.
“To me, he’s the man. I can’t think of a stronger person than Rob. The worst thing about this Covid is not being able to say thank you in person to Rob and his family.”
Masoe, who was in the St Helens team that beat Wigan in the 2014 Betfred Super League Grand Final, knows he will never play again but he is determined to live as normal a life as possible and sometimes even surprises himself by his achievements.
“I’m a bit stubborn in that way,” he says. “If someone tells me I can’t do it, I try to figure out a way of doing it. I think I’ve always had that but this has been a real test for myself.
“I always take it with a smile and look at the positive side. I’m happy with where I am now but in my head I still want more.
“They say that the recovery takes up to 18 months and after that it kinds of plateaus.
“I’ve just got to do as much as I can. I know deep down inside, I won’t be back to 100 per cent but I try and get as a close as I can.”