Kerry Gough, the mother of Leicester Tigers player Taylor, started crying while wrapping her Christmas presents this year.
“I stopped, and thought: ‘there could be one less name on the gift tags’. It hit so close to home.”
Her son, a promising academy product at Tigers, was involved in a car accident earlier this year that almost killed him, and left him paralysed from the chest down.
But Kerry is just “so grateful” that her son was with his family this year.
“Christmas,” she said, “was all about Taylor, and how precious life can be.”
Over six months ago, just as Leicester were about to resume training after COVID-19 suspended professional rugby, 20-year-old Taylor’s car hit a tree.
Having made his first senior appearance in a Premiership Cup game the year before, he had signed a new deal with his hometown club in February.
But, as he revealed on social media, the accident left him with “six broken ribs, a punctured lung, a fractured eye socket, shoulder, neck and back, and a broken jaw in four places.”
He also lost two pints of blood and was placed in a coma for 10 days. As he says himself, he was in a “bad way”.
“We were told that most people don’t come out of hospital nine months after an accident like that”, recalls Kerry. “He was out in three months.”
Taylor, described after the accident as a “warrior” by the head of Leicester’s academy Dave Wilks, has thrown himself into rehabilitation.
“The nurses, when he left, said he was good for other people in the unit to look up to, because of how hard he was working at his physio, and his desire to get better and keep spirits high”, says girlfriend Tilly Mantell, who Taylor has described as his “rock, my motivation to keep pushing myself to get better”.
The Matt Hampson Foundation, created by another former Leicester player paralysed as a young man, also helped with Taylor’s recovery.
They posted social media videos of Taylor working out at their facility near Melton Mowbray, and have set up calls with fellow clients who have been through similar experiences.
“He is progressing so much week on week,” said Tilly. “Sometimes I forget how far he has actually come.
“You look back at pictures and videos even a month ago. The difference is amazing.”
The response from Leicester Tigers fans, and across the rugby world, has been staggering. Nearly £50,000 was donated to Taylor’s family immediately after the incident.
“Taylor was receiving messages from people he had never met”, said Tilly.
“That support really kept him going. He was lying there in intensive care. All he had was his phone.
“We couldn’t be there but he could read all the messages of support.”
Taylor’s family now say his mind is firmly on the future. He wants an independent life back – and wants to start by getting a car.
“He said he wants to become the best he possibly can be,” says Tilly.
“Anything he could possibly have done in his rugby career couldn’t come close to how proud he has made me, through all of this.”
But he was home for Christmas, free from Covid restrictions, to be with his family again to provide a happier end to what his mum understandably describes as an “absolutely awful” year.
“Make the most of the loved ones around you,” she said. “Because life can change overnight.
“Everybody has clubbed together to save Taylor’s life, and I cannot thank them enough for that.”