AS the ink dried on his new contract, which will keep him at Edinburgh Rugby for “several” more years, Darcy Graham was keen to look ahead to being fit again after shoulder surgery, and then pushing hard for club and country over the next four years to hopefully become a genuine contender for the 2025 Lions tour.
However, he also took a few minutes to look backwards and reflect on “the living nightmare” he and his family have endured in recent months, during which time the 23-year-old has had to balance the demands of being a professional athlete competing at the sharp end of elite sport with the personal turmoil of having his little brother, Clark, in hospital fighting for his life following a road crash on 4th January.
17-year-old Clark spent three and a half weeks in an induced coma after suffering a serious brain injury, and then a further four and a half months in hospital learning to walk, talk and eat again, before finally being able to return to the family home in Hawick to continue his recovery last weekend.
It is an astonishing – and wonderful – outcome from what was a desperately bleak situation, and Graham’s voice understandably quivered with emotion at times as he marvelled at his younger sibling’s resilience.
“He’s still 17 so to go through what he’s gone through is unbelievable, and I’ll always look up to him now,” he smiled, shaking his head in admiration. “I wouldn’t wish that upon anybody.
“He probably shouldn’t be here. That’s the hardest part. He had somebody looking over him that day.
“He was in a coma for three and a half weeks, and in that whole three and a half weeks we just didn’t know if he was going to make it. He got infections, and there was just one thing after another. You’d get one positive thing then something negative would come up.
“What he’s come through is hard to put into words … to get a true understanding … it was a living nightmare.”
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Graham makes a point of paying tribute to the fire service crew who were first on the scene after the crash, the Borders General Hospital where Clark was initially treated, the Royal Infirmary Hospital in Edinburgh where he was transferred after a few days, and Astley Ainslie Hospital in Edinburgh where he got his rehabilitative care.
“They’ve all done an amazing job,” he said. “Because of Covid, me, my brother and my sister weren’t allowed in to see him, only my mum, so that was quite challenging, but like my brother says, he’s had the world’s best doctors working on him.
“To everyone who has helped, I can’t thank them enough because if it wasn’t for them, he wouldn’t be here.
“To get him home over the weekend, it was one of the best feelings ever. I hadn’t seen him for four months. The last time I had seen him was on that night of the accident, so it was pretty emotional.
“He’s back walking, showering – he can do everything himself – it’s just his balance is a wee bit off and his speech is a bit slower, but that will come back. This time next year we won’t even be talking about that.
“He’s just buzzing to get home and continue his rehab in the house and keep making huge improvements.”
Graham’s absence from the Edinburgh team during January and from the Scotland squad in the build-up to the start of the Six Nations was attributed to ‘personal reasons’. He would have been perfectly within his rights if he’d kept his head down throughout the remainder of the tournament.
Instead, he returned to the national team for their round two match against Wales and marked the occasion with the team’s opening try.
“I was very close to not even going in [to the Scotland camp] and the only reason I did was to give mum and dad something to look forward to,” he explained.
“The England game was just a week too early, but Gregor [Townsend] offered me the chance to be 24th man and it was an unbelievable win down there so I’m glad I got to experience that.”
“The first one back against Wales was very emotional. That was before he [Clark] could speak, he was just coming out of the coma. We used to phone him every night and the night before that game I told him I was going to score for him, so I was glad I did.
“For every game in the Six Nations, I always listened to one song – which Clark always used to listen to – before I went out. I was the last one out of the changing room and I would always sit and listen to this song and cry away in the changing room, then I had to flip the switch and go focus, and off I went to warm up.”
Now, with his brother making excellent progress and his contract situation sorted out, Graham is feeling positive. He’s comfortable with missing the end of this club season and Scotland’s summer tour schedule due to the shoulder surgery, and is looking looking ahead to Edinburgh kicking-on after a largely frustrating 2020-21 campaign.
“I always wanted to stay on,” he said. “If something else came up I would’ve thought about it, but I never really looked elsewhere. I’m quite happy here, especially with the new ground which looks amazing.
“I can’t wait to see the fans back and the new signings we have made are going to strengthen our backline. Hopefully we will have a real attacking mindset next season and play some rugby.
“I’ve had a few niggles over the past year that really held me back, so I want to get a full pre-season under my belt and come out firing for next season.”
And having two fellow Hawick men – Stuart Hogg and Rory Sutherland – in this summer’s Lions squad has been the perfect inspiration to chase an even bigger dream.
“That’s what you strive for, to play at the highest level, and I’ve got four years until it next comes around, so plenty time to work on everything else,” he concluded.