Alex McKinnon has spoken emotionally of his desire to fully recover from his spinal injury, declaring that he was prepared to do whatever it takes to achieve his goal of walking again.
Speaking to the media for the first time since he suffered the injury in March, McKinnon said he had enjoyed significant progress over the last four months.
The 22-year-old will return to Newcastle for the first time since being injured for Sunday’s round 19 NRL match against the Gold Coast, which is part of the NRL’s ‘Rise for Alex’ Round.
“As much as I would love to get home and get back to my family and get back to Newcastle and get on with my life I want to walk again,” McKinnon said on Monday.
“You see a lot of stories about people who get on with their lives and don’t walk again. My focus is to get as much back of my movement as I can and I am slowly improving.
“For example when I first got diagnosed I was a C4. All that is is shoulder movement. Nothing else. No fingers, no movement in your legs, or anything like that.
“I am slowly progressing with the movement, I am a C7 now, which is three levels below my injury.
McKinnon is set to leave his rehabilitation facility in Ryde in two months to settle again in Newcastle with his fiancee Teigan Power and may travel to the United States as part of his further rehabilitation.
“It’s going to be a slow and long process but I am willing to do that,” he said. “I’m 22 and I’m going to give it my best shot.”
McKinnon also defended his sport, saying that “rugby league is a safe sport”. His injury prompted a ban on lifting tackles, but McKinnon bore no malice and expressed no bitterness about his injury.
“There is no point of me being angry. You’d think I’d be filthy on the world and filthy on the game but I’m not. You may as well be content with the situation,” he said.
“Rugby league is still the same sport. What rugby league has done for myself and my life is ridiculous and I wouldn’t be the person I am today without it. I wouldn’t have met Wayne [Bennett] and I wouldn’t have met some of my best mates. I wouldn’t change it for anything.
“Lifting tackles are always going to be in the game, but if you ask me if the game is safe, of course it is safe,” he said. “There are more people in car accidents that end up having spinal injuries than in rugby league. That is the way I have taken it, and it is the way I take every day I suppose.
I hope Alex McKinnon realises how many people facing serious injury and illness he is going to inspire with his positivity and courage.
— Steve Mascord (@therealsteavis) July 14, 2014
“Being in the spinal ward, you see other people and you realise your situation probably isn’t as bad as theirs. Some people have injuries from walking down the street or riding pushbikes.”
McKinnon said of his return to Hunter Stadium: “I don’t know what to expect to tell you the truth. I don’t know how I’m going to handle the [weekend]… it’s going to be pretty emotional and until I’m in the situation I’m not sure how I’m going to deal with it.
“I’m looking forward to getting back to Newcastle though. I was saying to Teigan [McKinnon’s fiancé] the other night that I just want to go back to my house, and even if I can’t go inside, I just want to be able to sit out the front. It will be a good couple of days for me where I can just relax.”
The NRL will donate $1 to the ‘Rise for Alex’ fund for every spectator who ends matches this weekend. To donate or purchase a ‘Rise for Alex’ wristband, go to riseforalex.org.au.