Shattered dreams lead this rugby player on a path of discovery
Cameron Harcourt broke his hip, fell into study, learnt some valuable lessons and along the way he's developed a talent for using what you have to get to where you need to be.
A dream to play rugby in Japan was shattered when Cameron Harcourt broke his hip during a rugby game. Unable to play sport, he chose to study sport science instead, and his experience and knowledge has been lifechanging.
Life is a box of chocolates right? A younger Cameron Harcourt may have said “no, it’s a bento box in Japan and I am going to be there playing rugby”. But these days he’s more likely to be swigging a smoothie and thinking about better ways to train since he signed up to study a degree in sport and exercise science at Wintec.
Four years ago, Harcourt just wanted to be a good rugby player and make it into a Japanese team. His plan was to train hard and to learn Japanese.
He got a job in Hamilton restaurant, Daikoku and worked his way up to become a teppanyaki chef.
The restaurant became his classroom.
“I wanted to learn Japanese language and culture, so while I cooked, I also learnt Japanese from the people I worked with. I also learnt how much they value respect.”
In 2018, Harcourt broke his hip during a rugby game and he could no longer play.
He signed up to study a Bachelor of Sport and Exercise Science at Wintec, although his study was interrupted when complications arose from his hip injury.
“I had surgery in 2020 to repair my cartilage. I couldn’t move my leg for 10 weeks and it gave me the feeling everyone was getting ahead. It was after the first Covid-19 lockdown, so for half of that year, I dropped out.”
Faced with learning to walk again and finding the energy to catch up on his study, he went back to the gym.
“I was insanely weak, but it gave me the drive to get back to where I was. Now, I have no hip pain, I have been soaking up the knowledge from my study and I have a back-up plan for the future.”
His goal is still to go to Japan and play rugby, but he admits studying sport and exercise science has opened his eyes to what he had been missing.
“Everything I have been studying - nutrition, training, and rehabilitation – has inspired me to retrain people in sport. I know what it’s like to lose the ability to play sport and I know that if I had trained correctly, I could have possibly avoided injury and been so much better.”
Harcourt recalls as a 16-year-old wanting to “train the big muscles” because he didn’t know any better.
“It’s easy to be inspired by body builder workouts on YouTube that don’t include postural exercise. If you don’t focus on mobility, you can end up with short muscles and tendons and increase the risk of injuries,” he says.
“I see younger people listening to influencers and just injuring themselves and going on fast-acting diets that don’t work long-term. The more I’ve learnt, the more I am aware of how much information online is coming from unqualified people and it’s so wrong. It makes me cringe.”
He says the biggest problem with many people’s health is nutrition.
“My diet was terrible when I started going to the gym. Toast for breakfast, a packet of rice crackers for lunch and then whatever mum made for dinner. I was lazy as. My parents are super healthy, mum’s a doctor and dad's a biologist. Lunch and breakfast choices were up to me, so I made it pointless.”
And micronutrients? “Super important,” adds Harcourt.
Working in the sport industry to gain practical, real-world experience is an important part of the Bachelor of Sport and Exercise Science at Wintec.
From August to November 2021, it was tough for Wintec learners to get placement, with gyms and fitness centres closed or open in a limited way during Covid-19 level changes. Faced with needing to get his industry experience hours up during this time, Harcourt worked with Wintec academic, Lynne O’Malley on a creative solution to develop a fitness programme for Wintec staff as part of a wellness programme.
O’Malley says during times of crisis, exercise is frequently the first activity we tend to ignore.
“Research has shown that exercise can support our mental health and wellbeing and boost our immune systems. Many people are currently nervous about the potential impact of Covid-19 but take heart - there is something you can do.”
Since 2017, Wintec has been working with Workwell to implement wellbeing initiatives for the benefit of staff, so O’Malley tasked Harcourt with a challenge to create an accessible wellness programme.
“I knew a lot of the staff have sedentary jobs and because I have been used to a higher level of intensity, my challenge was to create super simple workouts,” says Harcourt.
He created a video so that staff could access workouts wherever they were, using objects at home, so that lockdowns or a lack of gym equipment would not be a barrier.
“I’m the guy who never takes photos or posts videos online,” he laughs.
“So that challenged me as well. Now I’ve started to do some social media videos.”
Harcourt’s video sees him in the garage at home using car batteries as weights and other found objects. He has created a workout where people can hit pause to repeat exercises at their own pace.
Cameron Harcourt’s exercise video is now online for anyone who would like a free workout session.
It's almost four years since his accident, Harcourt has a degree, and a different outlook on fitness and health, but his love of rugby hasn’t changed.
“I know I can’t play rugby forever, but I am going to play for as long as I can. When I have to stop, there’s lots of possibility using what I’ve learnt, and a lot of support amongst people across the rugby community.”
Read more:Why this celebrity rugby coach took a break to study sport science