Wheelchair rugby ‘lifesaving’ for student preparing for Leeds Rhinos debut


Cameron Hills, a 20-year-old Criminology with Police Studies student at Leeds Trinity University, is set to make his debut for the Leeds Rhinos Wheelchair Super League team just four months after playing the sport for the first time.


Born in Essex before moving to Oundle, Northamptonshire as a teenager, Cameron, known as Cam, has a background in cricket but was forced to give it up after twice herniating a disc in his lower back. On the second occasion, Cam was left paraplegic, and in March 2023 was diagnosed with functional neurological disorder (FND). FND affects how the brain receives and sends information to the rest of the body, but its cause is unknown. 

The impact this had on his ability to complete everyday tasks, sleep and even swallow food led to a difficult period in his life in which Cam says his mental health “spiralled.” Having always been active throughout his childhood and teenage years, Cam decided to try wheelchair sports in an attempt to rediscover his old self.  

He turned to Sheila King, Sports Development Officer at Leeds Trinity University, who, in February this year, made him aware of some wheelchair rugby taster sessions run by the Leeds Rhinos Foundation. Despite having no experience in any discipline of rugby, Cam quickly developed an affinity for the wheelchair format and found himself training with the Leeds Rhinos Wheelchair Super League team within a month. 

As he mixed with a team including World Cup winners such as Tom Halliwell OBE and Nathan Collins, his skills and confidence developed and now, having made three appearances for the reserve side, Cam is preparing to feature in the sport’s top division for the first time when Leeds take on Hull FC on Saturday 22 June. 

Cameron said: “I’m a bit nervous, but I’m very excited and I know my family are very excited about it too. I needed to get back to sport as I knew it was the thing I was missing and as soon as I went to the wheelchair rugby taster session, I loved it. I would argue it was lifechanging as, before rugby, I wasn’t doing anything which really impacted my mood. As FND is a reactive condition, the more emotional I am, the worse my condition tends to be, so just sitting around in my room made my symptoms worse. 

“However, finding wheelchair rugby put me amongst people who are in the same boat as me and our captain, Jodie Boyd-Ward, is the only other person I’ve met who has FND. Having someone to speak to who has lived with the condition for much longer than I have and has experienced what I am going through is great. I’ll send Jodie a message, and she’ll offer useful advice. 

“I also really missed being in a team and having fun with a big group of people. It’s a really competitive environment at the Rhinos but, like cricket, the more you get involved the better it is. Rugby has brought my competitive side out again, which is a big part of who I am. I am incredibly grateful to Leeds Trinity University and Sheila for pointing me in the direction of wheelchair rugby.” 

James Simpson MBE, Head Coach of the Leeds Rhinos Wheelchair Rugby team, said: “When you coach players who have a background in other sports, in Cam’s case cricket, you can see their athletic ability shine through. The ability to adapt and take on information quickly is critical in wheelchair rugby league and that has been one of Cam’s greatest strengths so far in his training. I think Cam has a great future ahead of him in the sport and I'm incredibly excited to be there to aid him. Our aim is to have him playing regularly in the Wheelchair Super League by the end of the year. He is surrounded by world-class players at Leeds Rhinos, and you can already see that rubbing off on him both on and off the field.” 

Leeds Trinity University has sponsored Cam for the 2024 season and will also ensure he receives the required support to manage both his sporting commitments and university coursework through the Talented Athlete Support Package, which provides student-athletes with an enhanced level of academic flexibility. 

Sarah Todd, Sports Development and Performance Manager at Leeds Trinity University, said: “I feel privileged to support Cam in balancing his studies and his sport at this exciting time and I am confident that the opportunities available to Cam through the package will help him to achieve his aspirations in wheelchair rugby league. It is quite clear to me that Cam already has the mindset of an athlete, and I’m excited to see where his can-do attitude and determination will lead him.” 

For more information on the Talented Athlete Support Package at Leeds Trinity, visit the University website. 

Leeds Trinity University's Corporate Communications team is the first point of contact for local, national and international media.

Looking to source a comment or would like to arrange an interview with one of our academic experts? Contact the team on +44 (0) 113 283 7100 or email the Communications team.

More about the Press Office