A RUGBY player who died seven years after breaking his back in a scrum was today remembered as an inspiration who never once asked “why me?”.
Tributes have poured in for Jonny Mitchell, the former captain of North Berwick Rugby Club, who died in the early hours of yesterday morning.
His grieving family said the former player, who was the father of two daughters, had died peacefully from “natural causes”.
The brave 30-year-old was confined to a wheelchair after suffering the horror injury during a match in 2005.
Club president and family friend Jim Littlefair described him as a “tremendous character” whose death was a “terrible loss”.
It is the latest tragedy to hit North Berwick Rugby Club following the death last month of first-team player and soldier Russell Freer, 29, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Police said that there were no suspicious circumstances regarding Mr Freer’s death.
Mr Mitchell was playing hooker during his third season as captain when he suffered the devastating injury against Hawick Linden on September 10, 2005.
As well as suffering a broken back, he dislocated two vertebrae in his neck and spent more than eight months in the spinal injuries unit at Glasgow’s Southern Hospital.
Mr Littlefair helped establish the Jonny Mitchell Trust Fund to help Mr Mitchell and his family deal with the demands of being wheelchair-bound.
He said Mr Mitchell passed away at 12.20am yesterday.
Mr Littlefair added: “Jonny never once said ‘why me?’. As an experienced front row player, he accepted that what happened to him was just a freak accident.
“All of our lives changed the day Jonny was injured and he’s been in our thoughts since that day and he will remain there.”
North Berwick community councillor Elma Danks said: “It is very sad. Jonny was a North Berwick lad and his wife was a local girl.
“He did tremendously well after suffering a terrible accident. He was always an enthusiastic and positive person.”
Professional and club players joined in the fundraising efforts for Mr Mitchell following his injury, and his family received help from charities Hearts and Balls and the Murrayfield Centenary Fund, which assists seriously injured players.
Scottish Rugby Union president Ian McLauchlan said: “Jonny showed such tremendous courage in the face of adversity. He loved the game.”
Mr Mitchell, who lived in Gullane, is survived by wife Joanne and their two daughters. Details of funeral arrangements are yet to be confirmed.