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How Rudi Webster's overcame his tryst with paralysis

KKR's new 'recruit' Dr Rudi Webster tells MiD DAY how he cured himself of paralysis

After three World T20 editions and four Indian Premier League tournaments, cricket pundits have come to realise that there is a mental side to international cricket's shortest form too. The appointment of sports psychologist Dr Rudi Webster by Kolkata Knight Riders proves that this critical aspect is not lost on Shah Rukh Khan's franchise too.


Rudi Webster during his stint with the Indian team in 2006. Mohammed
Kaif is to his left. Pic/AFP


Webster has dealt with several high profile sportsmen and his current trip to India probably makes him feel like a winner. No, this is not in reference to the riches associated to the T20 circus that kicks off on April 4, but the fact that he has won the battle of survival.

In December 2006, Webster returned to his Grenada home in the Caribbean after finishing a short stint with the Indian team then coached by Greg Chappell and fell ill. "The illness involved my spinal cord and left me paralysed from my waist down. I couldn't walk, stand or even sit up because I had lost power, sensation and balance in my trunk and lower limbs. A couple of weeks earlier I had a flu-like illness that resulted in inflammation of my spinal cord, a condition that was diagnosed as post viral transverse myelitis," recalled Webster.

The doctors treating him were in for a shock as Webster told them that, by June 2007, he would be in America playing golf with his mates. They were not amused and Webster was told that his goals (helping India again during the World Cup was another objective) were unrealistic: "They told me that as a doctor I should know better. They added that my recovery would be slow and that I would be like a baby and would have to learn how to walk again."

The next few months were spent learning how to crawl, sit up and stand with support. Progressively, Webster began to walk with a walker, a cane and then without the stick. He credited his physiotherapists for pushing him to "do things when I didn't feel like doing them."

His way
Webster used the same techniques that he preached all these years to sportsmen who sought his help. Obviously, he knew what he was doing. Apart from seeing how a positive attitude helped sportsmen move mountains, he also witnessed how the late Malcolm Marshall nearly won a golf game against him and Desmond Haynes two months before the pace ace succumbed to colon cancer in 1999.

Webster recalled the golf game in his address during the West Indies Players Association Cricket Awards: "Malcolm was extremely weak and was in great pain during the game.  He played poorly and Desmond started to tease him. On the 14th tee Malcolm told us that he would win the last five holes. We laughed at him and told him he was dreaming.

"Suddenly, his swing changed and he went on to win the next four holes. A lucky chip-in by Desmond prevented him from winning the last hole. When I asked him how he turned his game around, he pointed to his head and said, 'Doc, I believe in myself and in my game. In my mind, I saw myself winning those holes and once that happened, you were gone.' "

Dreams crushed
His first goal of helping India in their 2007 World Cup campaign was crushed when Rahul Dravid's men were sent packing in the early stages of the competition. But by June, Webster realised his dream of travelling to America and playing golf with his friends. "In my first game, my legs were still weak and my balance was not yet solid, but I played very well and executed most of my shots the way I had visualised them during my illness. My playing partners who knew of my illness were surprised at how well I played and some of them could not believe how seriously ill I was," he said.

Webster won the battle of his life and is now a healthy man, all set to change the mental approach of the KKR team. A lesser man would never have made it back to the country he last visited before a major illness. The players who exchange notes with him over the next few weeks are indeed fortunate. And who knows, his missed opportunity at the 2007 World Cup may come in a different shape and form.

How I got over my illness
Visualisation and mental rehearsal were the techniques that I used most. In my mind's eye I would see myself as a healthy person. Several times a day and night I would imagine myself running and getting really fit. But most of my time was spent visualising myself on the golf course playing every shot possible, over and over again. During my recovery I must have played hundreds of golf games and thousands of golf shots in my mind. 

My recovery was steady and I am confident that the mental techniques that I used during that period speeded up the healing process. I welcomed and celebrated every small success that I had during my recovery because I knew that when small successes are repeated they often give rise to quantum leaps in self-confidence. Throughout my illness I always knew that I would get well. I believed strongly in myself, in the healing powers of my body, in the competence and care of my doctors - Dr Rudi Webster

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