A traumatic skydiving accident left American rugby fanatic Katherine Aversano broken, injured and struck down in a hospital bed for months unable to consider ever playing the sport again.
On her 30th birthday, the Alexandria, Virginia graduate lawyer’s parachute malfunctioned causing her to tumble four storeys down to the ground, breaking her spine, leg and requiring seven surgeries to rebuild her body.
But if the accident hadn’t happened the Department of Justice worker may never have taken the bold step of coaching rugby, and in March 2018 Aversano was one of 14 coaches from the States to be invited to England as part of the ground-breaking initiative run by Premiership Rugby.
In 2019 we will see phase two of this project with Premiership Rugby awarding the next set of Scholarships to American-based coaches.
Falling in love with the sport as a freshman in college, Aversano has since become an inspirational coach to the children in her community in part thanks to the support of the Premiership Rugby Scholarships programme.
“On my 30th birthday I had a really bad sky diving accident which caused me to jettison out of any athletic involvements,” she explained.
“When I finally recovered, I missed the rugby community and during my injury I thought if I can’t play, I still have a lot of knowledge in my head to give back as a coach.
“A year after that I started coaching the high school girls team with Fort Hunt rugby and I am just now handing the team over to another head coach.
“I’ve started to grow a middle school programme for them and I have taken on coaching with Northern Virginia Rugby Football Club.
“As a coach getting the time to talk and process the different parts of the game with the coaches involved at Saracens, London Irish and Harlequins was monumentally beneficial.
“Each of the teams brought something different to the table and that in itself was amazing.
“The Premiership tries to build off natural instinct and open-mindedness that players have instead of trying to stifle them from the beginning – that was something that really bolstered me when I went back to the States.”
The Premiership Rugby Scholarships initiative is run in partnership with the Friends of the British Council and USA Rugby and aims to grow the sport in the US and in 2019 the next group of Scholarship winners will be coming to England. Applications are now open to become one of 50 US-based coaches to win Scholarships.
The Scholarship winners will receive an insight into what it takes to be a coach or player in the best and most competitive league in the world, while taking part in a series of high-level rugby and knowledge transfer sessions.
Aversano admits America still has a way to go to catch up with the game in England, but she believes ground-breaking outreach schemes like this are a fantastic way of improving coaching standards.
“I was nervous to go ahead and put myself forward. When you hear Premiership, you think they are looking for elite experienced coaches in the US,” she added.
“But the programme was fantastic as it encourages coaches with some experience under their belt to get involved and build their perspective.
“Coaching development is really difficult to get in the US without really having to go after it yourself.
“The way that I look at the game was highly reinforced by the Premiership. In the United States we tend to get a lot of coaches that are static in their thinking of how to address players and teams.
“This programme doesn’t try to rebuild you as a coach, it tries to make who you are and your goals better.”