Home Disability Sport From Rugby Scars to Ice Hockey Stars: How Dani Czernuszka-Watts Reclaims ‘Normal’ Life Through Para-Ice Hockey

From Rugby Scars to Ice Hockey Stars: How Dani Czernuszka-Watts Reclaims ‘Normal’ Life Through Para-Ice Hockey

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Para-ice hockey

Sporting jersey number seven for Team Great Britain, Dani Czernuszka-Watts gives a sly wink to her former rugby days.

Dani’s life took an unexpected turn when her partner showed her a YouTube video. The screen flickered with the gritty visuals of a Paralympic ice sledge hockey match, and Dani felt an instantaneous connection—though she was also painfully aware of her new reality.

The year was 2017, and Dani found herself confined to a hospital bed, having become paraplegic from a malicious rugby tackle that left her with a permanent spinal injury. She later secured a compensation settlement in a High Court case. Flash forward to nearly six years, and she’s not only an international athlete but a trailblazer as well. For Dani, sports have restored a sense of “normalcy” in her life.

“Man, I think my first love affair was with a pair of Mitre soccer boots,” Dani muses in an interview with Sport Newes Center, reflecting on her childhood days as a football junkie and die-hard Dennis Wise and Chelsea fan.

Her football dreams were quashed by an injury at 18, leading her through a career odyssey that included stints with the Metropolitan Police and prison services, a stay in Germany, and finally a chapter as a personal trainer. It was here that rugby entered her life. “It felt like destiny, even if I was just 5ft 3in,” she recalls. “I was nimble, speedy, and didn’t mind getting my hands dirty.”

Joining the Reading Sirens, Rams RFC’s women’s team, in 2016, Dani quickly became part of the rugby clan. The team was a pillar of support for her, especially as a single mom facing financial struggles and juggling childcare.

However, things took a sour turn on October 8, 2017, when the Sirens faced off against a rival team, Bracknell. The latter’s captain, Natasha King, had been verbally aggressive and physically intimidating in a previous match. This time, she had her eyes set on Dani, commanding her team to “take down the number seven.”

By the game’s end, King had made her malicious intentions clear. She forcefully belly-flopped onto Dani, causing an audible crack in her spine. “It was like the world’s worst sound bite,” Dani tells Sport Newes Center. “And it hit me: something terrible had just happened.”

She spent the next six months in two different hospitals and faced the harsh truth that her life was irrevocably changed. Yet she harbored no ill feelings toward rugby, even if her son opted out of the sport, fearing injury.

“Sure, there are dark days when I question my choice of playing rugby,” Dani says, “but then again, life is too short for regret, and this incident was something that could’ve been avoided.”

Today, Dani is a full-time wheelchair user but hasn’t let that slow her down. She’s finished the London Marathon twice, sailed around Antigua, and found renewed purpose in sport through Para-ice hockey. She’s even made history by becoming the first woman to score in a Para-Ice Hockey World Championship.

Dani sums it up: “Every goal I’ve scored felt great, but nothing compares to this one. It was the most euphoric ‘I told you so’ to myself.”

Come August 31, Dani and her self-funded Team GB squad will return to Green Bay for the Women’s World Challenge, vying against Canada, the USA, Team Europe, and Team Asia. No matter the outcome, Dani is living proof that sports can be life-changing, even life-saving.

“Some days suck, but if you can’t find a way to laugh about it, you’ll end up in a dark place,” she says. “For me, I’m giving life everything I’ve got, whether it’s a Para-ice hockey match or just vacuuming my living room.”

So, watch out world, whether you’re Team Europe or a dust bunny, Dani Czernuszka-Watts is bringing her A-game. And let me tell you, that A-game is something to see.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Para-ice hockey

What sport did Dani Czernuszka-Watts play before becoming paraplegic?

Before her life-changing injury, Dani Czernuszka-Watts was deeply involved in rugby. She played for Reading Sirens, Rams RFC’s women’s side, as a flanker.

How did Dani Czernuszka-Watts get introduced to Para-ice hockey?

After her injury, Dani was in the hospital when her partner showed her a YouTube video of ice sledge hockey at the Paralympics. The video left a lasting impression on her and served as an inspiration to get involved in the sport.

What history did Dani Czernuszka-Watts make in Para-ice hockey?

Dani Czernuszka-Watts made history by becoming the first female player from any nation to score at a Para-ice hockey World Championships. She achieved this feat while representing Great Britain’s mixed team.

How did Dani’s rugby career come to an end?

Dani’s rugby career was tragically cut short when she suffered a permanent spinal injury due to a “revenge” tackle during a match against Bracknell. The tackle was executed by Bracknell’s captain Natasha King, who threw her full weight onto Dani’s back, leading to her paralysis.

What is the Women’s World Challenge in Para-ice hockey?

The Women’s World Challenge in Para-ice hockey is a tournament that serves as a stepping stone to a first Women’s World Championship, targeted for 2025. It also aims to set the stage for a women’s tournament at the Paralympics in the future.

How has sport helped Dani Czernuszka-Watts mentally and emotionally?

Sport has provided Dani with a sense of ‘normality’ amid her challenges. Despite facing chronic pain and the limitations of being a full-time wheelchair user, engaging in Para-ice hockey has given her goals to strive for and a positive outlook on life.

What do Dani and her Para-ice hockey team aim for in the future?

Dani and her self-funded Great Britain team aim to grow and gain confidence as they look forward to participating in future tournaments like the 2023 Women’s World Challenge. They will be competing against teams from Canada, the USA, Europe, and Asia.

How has Dani’s injury impacted her family?

Her son has stopped playing rugby as he doesn’t want to get hurt, indicating the far-reaching implications of her injury on her family’s choices and lifestyle.

What is the meaning behind Dani wearing the number seven shirt in Para-ice hockey?

Dani wears the number seven shirt for Great Britain’s Para-ice hockey team as a tribute to her rugby days, during which she also wore the same number. It serves as a nod to the sport she loved before her injury.

Does Dani hold any resentment towards rugby after her injury?

Dani does not hold resentment towards rugby despite her life-changing injury. She acknowledges that her paralysis resulted from an action that could have been prevented and continues to focus on making the most of her life post-injury.

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