On the sidelines, in the outer

By Patrick O’Keeffe

I am frustrated. The immediate source of my frustration is an injury that is preventing me from running. For me, running is like addiction. Let’s be frank, running is my life. I haven’t run for 6 days and I’m experiencing major withdrawals. Running keeps me balanced. I need to run. I am a runner; that is my identity. When this is taken away, there is a great emptiness. I think about races fast approaching, the training that I’m missing out on.

Fortunately, my injury is only short term. I might only miss 8 or 9 days in total. That doesn’t seem like much and in reality, it isn’t. I consider this, in relation to high profile athletes on the long term injury list. I wonder what goes through their head. I wonder how injured players fill the void that has been created. Denied the opportunity to participate in the sport that gives them enjoyment, fulfillment, friendship and exhilaration; how do players atone for this loss? What gives athletes the strength to persevere?

For me, the great sadness in sport is not the losing of Grand Finals, it is long term injury. Players who are one the losing end of grand finals are still free to fight again. Admittedly, a lost grand final will burn for a long time, and could still burn long after a career is over. However, a career which is shortened by injury is sure to burn a great deal more.

I wonder how Max Bailey is going right now. I’m not up to speed with his rehabilitation, though I’m sure that it is on track. He must have great strength of character. David Rodan had just found his feet at AFL level, playing two stellar seasons with Port Adelaide. He will be on the sidelines again this year, after another serious knee injury. I remember David Schwarz, a dynamic player in his day, succumbing to three long term knee injuries. He made it back, though was restricted as a result. South Australian legend Shaun Rehn returned from the brink to play in Adelaide’s first AFL premiership.

I am glad that Luke Hodge has flourished into a supreme footballer. Throughout an injury riddled start to his career, he watched his contemporary Chris Judd take the competition by storm. I remember listening to SEN in 2004, as a Hawthorn supporter bemoaned the fact that his side had overlooked Judd for ‘this dodgy Hodge’. Humourless, unsupportive and insensitive. Quite an achievement, I thought to myself. At the time, I wonder if Hodge himself would have had doubts about whether he would fulfill expectations. He certainly has, and then some.

Of course, this extends to other sports. Recently, Shaun Tait has missed a good amount of cricket due to depression, which occurred as a result of the mental stress exacted on him by his tormented body. Shane Watson has a few critics. Until recently, his body let him down routinely. To his credit, he has ridden the bumps and is now flourishing. He could tone down his on field antics though. I once met Ebony Rainford Brent of the English women’s cricket team, on the bus to Adelaide of all places. Selected to represent her country at 17, she endured years of stress fractures in her back which stopped her from bowling. Fortunately, she can handle a bat, and was a part of England’s World Cup winning team in 2009. In Ebony’s first class debut as an exuberant 16 year old, she intentionally stopped a ball with her cranium. Consequently, she remembers little of her first class debut. You have to admire that level of commitment.

Of course, my chosen sport is almost synonymous with injury. Preston’s own Olympic marathon runner Lisa Weightman has endured 7 different stress fractures, and is now in the form of her life. Craig Mottram, who many consider to be Australia’s greatest distance runner, has missed well over a year of competition due to an Achilles injury. He must wonder when, or if, he can make it back. That must hurt. Liu Xiang, the Chinese hurdler upon which rested the hopes of a nation, famously withdrew from the Beijing Olympics prior to the first round of competition, also suffering form an Achilles complaint. How devastating that must have been.

For an athlete on the recovery trail, the road back must be tough. I am sure that throughout the course of this AFL season there will be many players who have their career stalled, perhaps even ended, as a result of injury. As dark as it may appear, these players will have the support of their clubs and their team mates. However, spare a thought for those players running around in the local leagues, playing for nothing but the love of it. For many, 2:00pm on a Saturday is what they live for. Injuries will hit a number of players, who may be forced to give the game away as a result. They will not have the privilege of undergoing full time rehabilitation, with medical expenses paid for by their employer. They will not have a club doctor on call to monitor their recovery. Their injury will prevent them from participating in the game they love, from celebrating big wins with their mates, or sharing in the heartbreak of a nail biting loss.

To those outside sport, injury doesn’t register as a concern. The athlete still lives and breathes. With the aid of perspective, injury which prevents someone from participating in a pastime perhaps isn’t a serious concern. However, when a person’s chosen sport is their full time concern; everything else is secondary. When this is taken away, there can be a big, overwhelming black hole.

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