The long road back to partial fitness

I’m standing at the top of the player’s race and I’m nervous. Not just your garden variety pre-game nerves either. They’re more your, “It’s my first game of footy in nearly 18 months following surgery” nerves. There are demons out there for me to face and, as bad luck would have it, they’re not from the Melbourne Football Club. It’s been quite the journey to this point. If you could see your way to affording me a little of your time, I should say 20 minutes would cover it nicely, I’ll tell you all about it:

It’s late September 2011 and a large, uncomfortable inguinal hernia has taken up permanent residency in my lower abdomen. My initial excitement at finally being able to sufficiently fill out a pair of speedos quickly gives way to the brutal reality of what this will mean to my lifelong passion for mobility.

I have theories on the origins of my injury. My contempt for warming up is at the forefront of that list. Whether putting my body through the rigours of playing the great Australian game, riding my bike or just sitting around and biting my toenails I tend to do so with an aversion to any pre-activity stretching routine. It doesn’t really matter how this happened anyway, all that really matters now is that my other notable repugnance (the patronage of a private health fund) will see to it that I am now set for a lengthy spell on the sidelines.

Sitting out the entire 2012 season was one of the more difficult things I’ve had to endure. When you’re one of the fittest people at the club (eclipsed only by the team physio and Gwen, the lady who runs the kiosk), standing idle whilst an athletically inferior replacement fills your boots is nothing if not unpleasant. I know I sound bitter but nobody else there can lay claim to having been the first player in our recorded history to cover 100 metres of the clubs hallowed turf in under 12 seconds? Granted, I was riding a vespa at the time but those pizzas weren’t getting any warmer and I was in club colours so it counts.

I feigned loyalty and support all season but watching my replacement grazing out on the wing I made my own for 10 seasons with the sort of lazy, petulant indifference that had been MY trademark, was infuriating.

I resolve to use this as motivation. All I know is that I will return. I will play again and as I watched them coughing and wheezing their way back to the change rooms after the game I decided that I too, would work my back to that same level of fitness once more. One season on the sidelines is one season more than I care to brave. It’s decided then. I’ll bank roll the surgery myself.

December 19th: Ipswich the city lays on the furthest outreaches of Brisbane both geographically and, it should be duly noted, economically as well. When a man stumbles into your waiting room bruised and bloodied, that’s confronting. When that man manages to stand long enough to introduce himself to you as your surgeon, that’s Ipswich!

December 20th: It’s the 20th of December, or at least I think it is. Where am I? This isn’t my room. For one thing, my room doesn’t have nurses in it, though not from a lack of trying on my part. Hospital..that’s right…it’s coming back to me now. I’m post-operative. I don’t remember dreaming but if I did it would be of some place far away from here. I should sleep some more.

December 21st: My anaesthesia induced stupor has subsided. Wow, what can I tell you about the public health system or, more specifically the appalling bedside manner offered on ones visit to Ipswich Public Hospital? They neglected to feed me, lost my possessions and even dropped me at one point when changing gurneys but the supreme lowlight among a veritable buffet of lowlights was the constant prodding and impromptu visits from roving gangs of student nurses and doctors. One group didn’t even bother to enquire after my wellbeing before tearing the paper underpants from my paralysed body. I felt a bit like the world’s laziest stripper.

My surgeon staggers back in (with a fresh set of bruises and a police escort) to give me the green light and I won’t be requiring a second invitation to go home. Not surprisingly, despite my obvious difficulties, nobody offers to help me get dressed. It’s like my first day of college all over again.

I’m keen to put this place behind me but it might take a while. I’ll just have to make do with visualising myself leaping out of bed and even that hurts a little bit. Instead, I ooze out from under the sheets before pretending to balance a dozen invisible plates on my head. It takes the better part of 10 minutes to shuffle from my room to the elevator and I’ve created gridlock on these narrow wards in the process. An impatient elder statesman with a walking frame shoots me “The Bird” once he seizes the opportunity to overtake

December 27th: Despite my best intentions to do so, I remain largely inanimate. My mind is fast becoming my enemy. I really have become quite useless. I fear that if I don’t move soon, 3rd world families will start filing into my bedroom and banging their wet laundry against me.

December 31st: 2nd week of post-op. This week is all about light abdominal stretching so although it’s destined to be another New Years Eve rolling around on my back unable to get up, at least this year I can’t be arrested for it.

January 3rd: Today I left the house for the first time since I came home. I shuffled down to the letterbox and had to call a cab to get back. This is an all-time low in fitness for me.

January 5th: I can feel the mesh insert. No doubt scar tissue is forming where it needs to but I often get uncomfortable rubbing and pinching around the scar that is, at times, impossible to ignore. It’s important that I don’t scratch or pull at my stitches though. I’ve fashioned a plastic cone to wear around my head. It won’t deny me access to my stitches but if I sit on top of the TV and face the window, we pick up Foxtel for free. A welcome bonus!

January 7th: A good friend dropped by the latest edition of Men’s Health Magazine. He saw a section on building core body strength and thought that I might benefit. Naturally, he just dropped it on the floor in front of me figuring that now was as good as any time to start. The gesture is appreciated but the magazine itself made me angry, if not a little depressed. So many women struggle with negative body issues and I’m beginning to understand why. Page after page of toned, heavily muscled men really only served to further ridicule the pasty, frail shell of a man I presently find myself trapped inside. Why isn’t there a magazine with more achievable, intermediate images in them? Something that says “Be strong! Say No to that 3rd bag of breakfast Doritos and you’ll be squeezing back into that bean bag in no time!” You could still have the obligatory sportsperson on the front if you wanted to. Sumo wrestling and darts are sports in their own right, after all.

January 12th: Flexibility, strength and endurance are the key focus now. The good oil from most sources is on the importance of core body strength. It’s astounding how many people have an opinion on the subject. Sharing the details of my rehabilitation has given rise to a forum of opinion and debate.From crystals to herbs, Reiki to acupuncture, there is no shortage of “guaranteed” solutions. From the second I woke up in Recovery there was somebody on hand to stare at my groin, at the ready with a handy hint or two. All well and good when it’s a health care professional with formal accreditation and years of applied knowledge but when they’re holding a squeegee and hanging from a scaffolding outside your window, thanks but no thanks.

January 14th: The gym ball proves to be a sensible purchase and despite my initial doubts over pilates, I’m starting to feel the benefits. Tai-chi on the other hand, I gave a go on a whim and just as quickly discarded. I only went down that road (or cul-de-sac as the case may be) because I was told it was a member of the martial arts family. Presumably a distant relative or more like that perpetually single, sandal wearing uncle that “just never met the right girl”. I mean, what’s the point of a “slow motion” martial art anyway? That said I’m sure the joke will be on me the day I get mugged in the deep end of a swimming pool.

January 21st: Star jumps, burpees and sit ups in the backyard at dawn this morning. I even finished with a short sprint, due largely to the fire ants that invited themselves into my bike pants but with no ill effects afterwards. It’s safe to say I’m on the way back.

February 2nd: Light weights sessions have given way to heavier weights and the body is starting to bulge in all the right areas once more. Any opportunity to lift something heavy now and I’m there. Whether moving rocks in the garden, furniture around the house or just carrying my wife into the kitchen whenever I’m hungry, I feel useful again. At least now when next she threatens to leave me I’ll be able to help her with the suitcases.

February 8th: Today was the first day in a very long time that I’ve been able to look at myself naked in a mirror and feel genuinely good about the way I look. Sadly, it wasn’t a sentiment that anybody else in the elevator shared at the time and I was subsequently escorted from the hotel but I refuse to let it ruin my day.

February 13th: First day back at pre-season training today. The journey is nearly complete. Great to see so many of the old faces, though I know there’s at least one wingman who is more than a little nervous about his position in the team and for once it isn’t me. I’ve returned fitter than so many of the others which is a good feeling. The coach puts away the footys for tonight and says we’re going to focus on “gut running”. Most of the lads interpret this as a light jog with our shirts off but I know better and can’t wait. I’m ready.

March 31st: So here I am, standing at the top of the players race. We’ve got old rivals Wilston Grange Masters waiting for us out on the ground and there’s a lump in my throat the size of a golf ball. This is one lump though, that is more than welcome.

About Jamie Simmons

Born in Melbourne, a third generation Fitzroy supporter, in 1972 before emigrating to Tasmania during The Great Broccoli Famine of 86. Leaving my island lodgings, largely at the request of locals, to settle once more on the mainland in 1997. These days living out a peaceful existance on the outskirts of Brisbane, where I spend most of my time serving as a fashion warning to others.


  1. I laughed out loud – great work.

    Good luck for the season.

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