A girl seriously injured during a rugby game says the referee's actions saved her from being paralysed.
Palmerston North Girls High School rugby player Rebekah Turner, 16, was injured in the first 10 minutes of her game against Dannevirke High School's girls' 1st XV in mid-May, refereed by James Kendrick.
Kendrick's quick thinking and training as a volunteer St John first responder and Dannevirke volunteer firefighter led him to lie on the cold, wet ground holding Rebekah's neck and comforting her during the hour-long ordeal.
"Becky said she couldn't feel her legs," said her mum, Christine Walker. "There she was, only 16, and I thought she was facing a life in a wheelchair.
"We were very, very lucky that day to have James there. If it wasn't for him Becky wouldn't be walking now."
Walker said Kendrick was "absolutely focused on my daughter".
When Kendrick and team manager Troy Gerbich realised there would be a delay with the ambulance, they called out the Dannevirke Volunteer Fire Brigade, who arrived with an off-duty paramedic.
"Troy and firefighter Blair King kept squeezing the end of Rebekah's big toe to test for any feeling," Kendrick said. "This was worse than anything I'd witnessed before.
"I thought what would happen if this young girl wasn't able to walk again? It would have been life-changing."
As time went on, Kendrick and Walker spent time encouraging Rebekah to stay awake.
"It was so cold," Kendrick said.
Rebekah was now back at school, but for just two hours a day.
"I'm just getting back into things slowly," she said.
Walker wanted to say thank you to Kendrick and last Wednesday she and her daughter were in Dannevirke with Gerbich to do just that.
"In your mind you aren't prepared for what happened that afternoon, because you don't think it will happen," Gerbich said.
Flown from Dannevirke by the Palmerston North Rescue Helicopter, Rebekah and her mother transferred to the Westpac Rescue Helicopter in Waikato for the final journey to Middlemore Hospital, where they stayed until May 18.
"Lisa Kingi-Bon, the chief executive of the Rugby Foundation, was there for us and was absolutely amazing," Walker said.
Not only did Kingi-Bon provide support, comfort and supplies for the pair, she also bought new clothes for Rebekah and arranged their flight home.
"She's still supporting us," Walker said.
And the model for secondary school rugby put in place by the New Zealand Rugby Union and further down the track, by the Manawatū Rugby Union, worked, Gerbich said.
"The support is amazing and those processes work," he said.
Rebekah has a family background of sport and she is looking forward to getting back into squash, training for the secondary school nationals in eight weeks.
"She's determined to represent her school," Walker said.
But mother and daughter were divided on Rebekah's rugby future.
"I'm definitely playing next year," the 16-year-old said.
But her mother had other ideas.
"We'll see about that," she said.
To secure his special connection with Rebekah, Kendrick presented her with a large pounamu pendant from Te Urewera, his ancestral home.
"This taonga signifies the person I met that day on the rugby paddock," he said.