Former England player Vicky Macqueen reveals the harrowing inspiration behind didi rugby, the fun exercise programme for kids that's taking off in the UK
Vicky Macqueen: my brush with death inspired me to found didi rugby
Vicky Macqueen was a full-back for the Red Roses from 2004-09. Three years ago, as a mum of two and a qualified Level Three coach, she launched didi rugby to “spread the gospel of health and fitness to little ones all around the world”.
The exercise programme has gathered pace. This month alone has seen the launch of didi rugby South Warwickshire, with the help of England players Amy Cokayne and Charlotte Pearce, while Craig Hunter has turned didi rugby Reading into a full-time franchise.
On Saturday 19 May, England Women’s World Cup-winning coach Gary Street will head up the latest didi rugby franchise launch, with the first sessions commencing at 9am at the Twickenham Stoop, the home of Harlequins.
“I’m really proud to be involved with didi Rugby and to bring the values of the business to the Twickenham and Richmond area,” said Street, who will have support at the launch from England great Maggie Alphonsi.
Rugby World interviewed Macqueen last year and discovered that but for her exceptional fitness levels, stemming from her rugby and PE teaching background, she might not have been around today. This article appeared in our September 2017 edition…
WE ALL HAVE our Sliding Doors moments, when a 50:50 decision takes our life down a totally different path, but few are as seismic as the day in 2013 that Vicky Macqueen decided to go to A&E because a scratch on her shin had become infected.
“I’d been to the local walk-in clinic where they gave me antibiotics, but I’d been sick so they’d suggested I go to hospital and have them intravenously,” says Macqueen, who as Vicky Massarella won 23 England caps at full-back from 2004-09.
“I went home and it was touch and go whether I bothered going; I had a four-month-old and 18-month-old and it wasn’t convenient. But later in the day I went to the George Eliot Hospital in Nuneaton. My blood pressure was a bit low but I didn’t have any real symptoms to be concerned about. Then a specialist came in who wasn’t happy at all. ‘Something’s not right,’ she said. So they sent me for extra blood tests.”
Two hours after entering A&E, Macqueen’s blood pressure had plummeted and she was fighting for her life in intensive care.
“I almost went into cardiac arrest. Lots of consultants saw me and I was really scared. My leg was really bad and this doctor was telling me, ‘You are really ill’. I had a morphine button for the pain but I refused to be sedated because I wanted to just focus on being okay and surviving, with my two little ones at home.”
That was a Saturday night and by the Monday, with her lungs failing, they were still pumping stuff into her heart. The infection was up to her quad, red and swollen, and they decided to amputate her right leg above the knee.
“I signed the forms, I was just thinking, ‘Do whatever you need to do’. The doctors were very honest with me, I was quite shocked by that. I must have asked this poor nurse 100 times, “Am I going to be okay?” and she’d say, ‘You’re still in a critical condition, we can’t rule out that you might die’. They didn’t know what the problem was and didn’t know if the infection would spread to my heart and lungs.”
They had sent a sample off to Birmingham for analysis and the result came back – it was necrotising fasciitis (NF), commonly known as flesh-eating disease and often fatal.
By Wednesday afternoon they were able to start using the right antibiotics and they postponed the amputation for 12 hours to see if the drugs took rapid effect.
Fortunately they did. After nine days in intensive care and 11 more in the ward, Macqueen left hospital with her limbs intact and a brand-new outlook.
“It was a freak thing but it had a big impact on me. It made me feel I must live each day as if it’s your last, enjoy life and don’t worry about crazy little things.
“They told me that my fitness saved my life, having a strong heart stopped me having a heart attack. I think the disease has only a 30% survival rate. My passion for exercise and keeping active made me think everyone should be healthy and fit and able to fight off diseases, and that became my mission.”
She was already preaching the message, as Head of PE at Redwood Academy in Hinckley, but in May 2015 she launched didi rugby, a fun exercise programme designed to create active, confident and skilful children.
The programme caters for youngsters aged 18 months to six years old, and from the initial class of eight there are now more than 1,000 kids participating across the Midlands, Herts and Norfolk, with Macqueen coaching others to run the weekly sessions. There’s a pilot programme running in Melbourne, Australia and another starting in Christchurch, New Zealand.
“Most children start at 18 months to two and stay until six. You feed into the next age group when you’re ready. After six they can go to play tag rugby or any other sport – last year we fed our first ‘twinkle toes’ into the under-7s at Hinckley.”
Would didi rugby have happened without her contracting NF? “I’d like to say I’d have had the drive to do it but I’m not sure. I think I was a positive person anyway but maybe that was what I needed to prompt a shift in my life. It was meant to be.”
Macqueen’s devotion to promoting grass-roots rugby saw her rewarded with a British Empire Medal in the Queen’s 90th birthday honours list. And she remains a committed recreational runner, despite the origin of her near-tragic scratch.
“I did the Wolf Run at Lutterworth,” she says. “At the end I was laughing with my mate because he had scratches all over his body and I had just a tiny cut on my shin, which happened when I was trying to jump across some hay bales and hit one. Little did I know…”
Next year she will make her London Marathon debut*, her third at that distance, and it’s a certainty that there will be tears in her eyes when she crosses the finish.
* Macqueen completed this year’s London Marathon – the hottest on record – in 3hr 56min. She says: “It was an amazing and emotional experience. I saw my children at 22 miles, I heard my mum shrieking! And after I got through the finish, I had my little tears moment.”