In 2006, Declan Sephton-Hulme suffered a brain haemorrhage as a result of a genetic condition, leaving him with memory and speech problems and seemingly dashing his dreams of playing professional rugby. But he recovered and secured a place on the Warrington Wolves Scholarship programme before moving to Widnes Vikings and making his Super League debut in 2013. This year he graduated from Edge Hill University with a degree in sport and exercise science, winning the Adam Bell Scholarship for “honesty, resilience, hard work and commitment”.
Where and when were you born?
I was born in Whiston Hospital on 14 January 1993, which is just down the road from St Helens where I’ve lived all my life.
How has this shaped you?
I had a very normal upbringing, and stayed local. I’d say this has made me a very down-to-earth person.
To what extent has higher education contributed to your career so far?
I see it as something that will benefit my career later in life when I’ve retired from playing professionally; I was already playing rugby for years before I started my course.
Did your illness and subsequent experiences change your perspective on life?
No – I’m a very laid-back person who takes every day as it comes.
What is your message for other budding sportspeople who face potentially life-/career-threatening injuries?
You’ll find a way to do what you want to do. Don’t give up – if injury stands in your way find something else you love and pursue that.
What was your university experience like in terms of juggling studies, rugby and rehabilitation?
I just got on with my life. The only remaining symptom is some problems with memory. I made sure to take a lot of notes during my lectures so that I didn’t forget anything. In terms of juggling studies with my career, fortunately my university was flexible and supportive when I had to dash off to training in between lectures.
Are there any particular risks for you playing a sport involving so many collisions and impacts?
I’m only at risk as much as any other person playing the game.
Does your condition affect how you play during games at all?
No, I don’t even think about it.
If you were a prospective university student (again) facing £9,000 fees, would you apply or go straight into work?
With having a career already, I would maybe consider studying after my retirement from professional playing. That might make more financial sense.
What keeps you awake at night?
Something as simple as what I am going to eat the next day. I guess I really am a very laid-back person.
As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
Originally I wanted to be a professional footballer. But through playing footy at school it turned out I couldn’t kick a ball, so I decided I’d better pick it up and run with it! Now I prefer rugby.
What do you do for fun?
I do “pretend” sports like golf and fishing.
What kind of undergraduate were you?
A very busy one. Although I enjoyed my time at university, I didn’t have a chance to spend much time there outside teaching hours, unlike my friends who lived on campus. I did manage to fit in the odd Wednesday night down at the students’ union, when all the sports teams socialised, which was good fun.
What was your most memorable moment at university?
When the university honoured me with an Adam Bell scholarship. I felt thrilled but emotional when my name was called. The award helped me prepare for playing professional rugby full time as well as juggling my studies.
What do you want to do with your degree?
I love rugby and want to stay involved, even after I retire from playing professionally. This is where I see my degree as coming in useful. I’d like to be in a training role at a professional club in the UK or maybe even Australia – there is so much opportunity there.