At the end of 2019, Bay of Plenty's Baden Wardlaw realised a life-long dream when he signed a Super Rugby contract with the Blues. A month later it was cruelly taken away. Sports reporter David
Beck caught up with him about what has happened in the two months since.READ MORE:
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Imagine you are deeply passionate about your sport. You put your heart and soul into achieving your dreams in that arena. You think you've finally made it, only for it all to come crashing down.
That was the case for Bay of Plenty's Baden Wardlaw. The 30-year-old had realised a dream when he was named in the Blues team for the 2020 Investec Super Rugby season.
However, medical checks showed three fused vertebrae in his neck, and after further tests and extensive expert opinions, the advice was that he should not play rugby again.
Luckily, the same mental strength that saw Wardlaw rise through the ranks in Premier club rugby, cement a place in the Championship winning Steamers and secure a Blues contract has also helped him find the silver linings in what was initially pure heartbreak.
"I'm slowly healing, it has been a bit of a process. I managed to get to a pre-season game which was a bit surreal and went to the Blues game at the weekend which was a quite an emotional feeling."
Wardlaw credits his ability to cope with the disappointment to the support of his family, friends, the Rotorua rugby community, Bay of Plenty Rugby and the Blues who have all been there for him throughout the process.
"Mentally, I'm all good, we've got the family and I keep myself busy. [Family and friends] have been huge - I didn't really realise how much time I would have on my hands. I was so used to living a semi-professional to professional life and all of a sudden I've gone to having all the time in the world.
"I'm actually getting around and hanging out with the family and all the friends a lot more than I've been able to in the last few years. That's been good."
He received hundreds of messages and calls of support after he announced his forced retirement.
"It goes to show, when something does happen to someone, injury or like my case, the rugby community get behind you and they support you hugely. Even the Blues have been helpful as, they ring me almost every day and give me support, even helping me with career paths.
"They presented me a Blues jersey [at the pre-season game in Waihī] as well so that was pretty special for me and my family."
One of the ways he is keeping busy is training for next month's Iron Māori in Taupō.
"I was training so hard to prepare for the Super Rugby season, then all of a sudden I get that news and thought 'what am I going to do with all the training and hard work I've been doing?'.
"I thought to take my mind off it and use all my hard mahi I'd enter into this Iron Māori. It's always been a bucket list thing but at the same time it's a mental thing where I've been able to take my mind off rugby.
"The swim will definitely be the biggest challenge. With rugby, we're always on the bikes and running but we don't really do swimming so I've been training hard out in the pool, pretty much every day. The goal is just to finish and be able to say to myself that I did it."
Reflecting on his rugby career, Wardlaw is glad he at least went out a winner, an integral member of the Bay of Plenty Steamers side who won the 2019 Mitre 10 Cup Championship.
"I give a lot of credit to Rotoiti and Whakarewarewa because without those teams I never would've got to where I was. I knew to get to that rep level I had to be playing prems and those are the teams that I thank very much for getting me to where I got.
"I'm proud of what I achieved in that short space when I really wanted to give it a crack. At least I can say I went out a champ, I'll definitely hold that memory in my mind."
In terms of his next career move, he did not want to rush into anything but having always been interested in fitness he was looking at some study in that area and had been invited by the Steamers to shadow some of their trainers this season and see if it was for him.