In 2016, Deneka Borden was involved in a serious car accident that left her with a list of critical injuries and questioning how she would ever recover, let alone play her beloved rugby again.
Fast forward to 2020 and there are remarkably no signs of the broken back, neck and ribs, or the ruptured spleen, kidney and liver she sustained in the accident – “It’s like a brand-new neck,” says Borden as she explains how she defied the odds and is back playing for Bermuda as well as for the Mariners Rugby Football Club on her island home.
Not only that, Borden has also taken on the role of Assistant Coach with the national team, become a passionate supporter of women’s development in rugby, and gained qualifications in refereeing, making her one of the first female refs in Bermuda and demonstrating the strength of this young lady’s drive and determination.
Borden started playing rugby in 2009 when a friend introduced her to the Mariners Touch Team and has been playing ever since. In the same year, she won ‘Most Improved’ and was consecutively awarded ‘Player of the Year’ from 2010-2015.
It wasn’t until 2013 that Borden began her career in contact rugby. “We don’t have a permanent women’s contact league, so I was only interested in touch rugby – (ironically) I also didn’t want to get injured,” she says. “When I eventually said yes to some contact training, I really enjoyed it and decided to play”.
Borden went on to represent Bermuda in contact rugby tournaments (including Rugby Americas North) in the Cayman Islands, Mexico, Canada and Bermuda over 2013-2015. “These tournaments were definite highlights for me, especially because I was part of the first women’s team for Bermuda”.
In one moment, everything can change …
“I just remember waking up on the road in pain,” says Borden as she recalls the accident in June 2016 that changed her life forever. “I was in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for almost a week while doctors assessed my injuries and waited for a neck halo brace to be shipped into Bermuda. I was then transferred to the ward with the halo attached to my head so my bones could start healing”.
Borden remained in the hospital for another week before being sent home with strict instructions for minimal movement and no leaning forward due to the risk of snapping her spinal cord. She stayed at home for the next three months living in the halo brace, only venturing out to get routine medical scans.
“Originally I thought ‘I’m a fast healer, it will only take 6 weeks like any broken bone’, but after I saw that my neck was actually disconnected I realized it was going to be a long road,” she says.
By the end of September 2016, scans showed that some of Borden’s neck bones had reconnected – the halo was removed and replaced by a neck brace. “I’ve always been an active person, so it was hard for me without much movement. I had to accept that I could only go as fast as my body would allow and just wait for green light to exercise again,” says Borden.
In December 2016, Borden was cleared for basic exercise and began the journey of physically rebuilding her body. “Initially I was only focused on strengthening my neck and back,” she says. “But once I could feel myself getting stronger, I turned my attention to rugby again and just kept pushing”.
Almost a year after the accident, Borden’s vision became a reality when her medical team said she could finally return to the field. “Coming back is obviously an incredible highlight. Although it was the end of the season, I was determined to still get out there,” says Borden. And get out there she did. Not only did she stretch her legs in a game, but she also scored the three tries that won the Mariners the 2017 Scully Cup and became Team Captain at the start of the next rugby season.
Borden earned her way back onto the National Team and once again represented Bermuda internationally from 2017 – 2019.