BEFORE YOU START READING PLEASE FORGIVE MY GRAMMAR. I am a footballer after all ;)
When trying to figure out what I should write for my first blog, there was one thing that stood out in my career so far. It was that I have had to overcome some injuries to get to where I am today. So I thought, what else is best to write about than telling my story on the serious knee injuries I have had. I’ll cover what happened, what I went through, who helped me and i’ll finish on why I stared defeat in the face and gave it the middle finger. Excuse my profanity!
At the end of my first semi professional football year in 2010 with the Brisbane Broncos youth side I was asked to train full time with the NRL team. A massive achievement for myself after coming out of school only a year prior. I trained the house down and battled through the hardest army camp I have attended to date, touch wood. A gruelling 3 days in the bush, walking 30 plus kilometres a day, carrying, digging and sleeping in torrential rain. Aiming at impressing the coach in everything I did that preseason to make sure he knew I was there for one thing, to play NRL. Playing a few NRL trial games was a box ticked that year, that I definitely didn't think I was able too. At the end of preseason I was told by the Under 20s coach that I was going to be captain of the youth side. I have always loved leading so it was such an honour, especially at such a good club.
Round 1 came by and I lead the team out on to the park for the first time. I can’t remember if we won or lost the game but it was one hell of an experience. Round 2 was against the Raiders in Canberra. The night before leaving to Canberra for our second game of the year I remember sitting outside the Robina Town Centre waiting for my partner, Jess to finish work. I was sitting in the car with my good mate Corey Norman when we heard a lady screaming. We managed to calm her down and ask her what was wrong, two men had snatched her purse. We found them in a neighbouring carpark and got her purse back. The reason I am telling you this is not that I want a pat on the back but because I remember saying to Jess and Corey afterwards that surely I was set to score a hat trick after the good deed. Flying down to Canberra for the first time was exciting and I remember rooming with Dale Copley, my fellow centre. The first half went reasonably ok as I recall but I hadn't scored any tries DAMMIT. About ten or so minutes out from half time I got passed the ball about 10 metres out from the try-line in the right hand corner, wound up my right foot step and BANG. No, I didn't step anyone and score the first of three. The bang wasn't the sound of my step, it was my right knee. At first it was the most intense pain I had felt, like a bullet had been fired into my knee. Rolling around on the ground in pain the doctor and physio ran to my aid. Asking what happened and doing a few tests I started to feel a bit better. As the pain wore off I stood up and was puzzled as to where all the pain just went. Maybe I was putting on an act? I came off into the sheds and had my knee strapped. I went into the corridor outside the changing rooms and did a few laps up and down. It seemed to feel ok, not sore at all. When I turned to tell the physio I was fine, my knee buckled from underneath me like it wasn't there. He told me to give it a rest and that we’ll scan it back in Brisbane the following day.
Arriving back in Brisbane my father had picked me up from the airport. He took me to get my scans. On the Monday I walked back into training with my scans in hand and into the physio office. I remember vividly as I walked in feeling a bit embarrassed as I had put such a show on the field, stretchered off and did not return to play. Lying on the physio bed, the club doctor at the time spoke to me saying something which sounded like a foreign language to me. Something about tearing some Anterior Cruciate Ligament in my right knee and that I would be out for a little while. Asking how long the little while would be he said, “I’m sorry son, the year”. I was so confused I remember thinking what? THE YEAR? It's only round 3? So young and oblivious to the injury I couldn't comprehend what he was trying to say. After it finally hit me I walked upstairs and told the assistant coach. I could hardly talk I was too upset and went straight downstairs, grabbed my gear and went to the car where my dad was waiting. Breaking the news to him I don't think he understood the seriousness of the injury at first either but he could tell how upset I was. Not asking any questions he drove us home to the Gold Coast.
Getting prepared for my surgery I wasn't too sure what I was in for. It was my first surgery so I was oblivious to the seriousness of the whole situation. But damn! When I woke up I had never been in so much pain before. My leg was throbbing so bad and I was feeling so nauseous. The nurse had to come in and tell me the morphine button only worked every 5 or 10 minutes and I had pushed it 45 times in the last 30. The next morning a physio came in and got me up to learn how to use the crutches. I was like bro — how hard could it be? Little did I know! He took me up and down some stairs a couple of times to get used to them. My father picked me up later that day. I was fixed.
Twenty years old and training around 25 plus year old superstars I thought I was someone I wasn't. I trained as hard as I could and did what was asked of me but come weekends I thought I could hang out with people who could drink every weekend and eat whatever they liked, really good friends but not professional sportsmen. I was drinking every weekend while on my crutches and knee in a brace. I was arrogant and cocky, who thought I deserved so much more than I should. I treated people close to me badly, especially my partner Jess. I owe a lot to Jess. She stuck by me through all of this and some. But i’ll save her/our story for another blog. I was carrying on like someone who had played 300 games yet I hadn't even played one. My personal life was a shambles, my diet, relationship and how I acted was also. I tipped the scales at close to 105 kg. The one thing that always worked for me was training. I always gave it everything I had and thought that was enough to be what I wanted to be. But it wasn’t. I didn't realise it. I am just so lucky to have people in my life who knew how I was behaving wasn't who I was.
Nearing the end of 2011 and the end of my rehab I started the 2012 preseason. Fit, strong but mentally unstable I made it through which looking back now was one of the worst years of my life on and off the field. But, I made it though, my knee was back again.
Four or so tough months through the unforgiving Brisbane summer I finished the 2012 preseason. Feeling good and healthy I was training well and this was definitely the year I was going to make my debut in the NRL. I got named in the centres to play our first NRL trial against the cowboys in Redcliffe. Excited to play again I was looking to show the coaches I still had it. About ten or so minutes out from half time, I got passed the ball about 10 metres out from the try-line, in the right hand corner, and wound up my right foot step, then BANG. No, no try again but YES my knee. Knowing the feeling I didn't move. Immediately tears started and I just remember repeating “No, No, No”. Our physio and trainer come out and picked me up, dragging me from the field with my arms over their shoulders. Blood dripping from my broken nose also. Sitting in the doctors room he dealt me the bad news again. I remember my father coming in and seeing me and talking to the doctors. Being the man he is it was the second time in my life where I saw tears in his eyes. He had seen my struggle the previous year and knew how bad I wanted to play NRL. I have never asked him what he had thought at the time, which was going through my mind, is this it?
Scans down on the Gold Coast revealed I had torn my ACL in my first game back, in back to back years. I used to think why me? What did I do wrong? With surgery at least this time I knew what I was in for and could prepare accordingly. But this time they had to get the new ACL graft from my left hamstring. So I woke up with two sore legs not just one. The hospital physio turned up again in the morning but being angry and high on medication I told him to get out as I knew what I was doing this time round. Mostly because I was in that much pain I didn't want to get out of bed and walk up and down stairs.
This time around I didn't want to get overweight again so I signed up to the closest 24 hour gym to my house. My partner Jess was again by my side, at the gym at all hours of the night. I went to the gym nearly every day sometimes twice which kept my weight in check. I still hadn't dealt with my problems with alcohol. I wasn't drinking as much as the year before but when I drank, I drank! Putting Jess through a lot and still acting like a veteran NRL player. My head was all over the place. I wasn't sleeping at nights due to the fact that I used to think too much. Am I wanted? Do people love me? Have I even got what it takes to be a footballer? I didn't trust myself nor did I trust the people closest to me who deserved it the most. Some occasions I would bottle it all up and when I drank it all came out. Every time I used to fight with Jess all I wanted to do was die. I was lucky she was stronger than I was and talked me out of a lot of places I wouldn't come back from. Halfway throughout the year I managed to mature a little. Taking my rehab seriously and making sure my personal life, diet and relationships were treated with just as much importance, if not more.
Throughout this year my knee rehab was coming along great and I was a chance of playing again towards the end of the season. Excited and ready to go. I was too old to play in the youth competition so I thought I would play Queensland Cup for Wynnum. My coaching staff told me that I would be playing reserve grade for Wynnum. It made me question that if the Q Cup side didn't want me then I'm no chance of playing NRL, EVER! The physio, rehab staff and myself came to the decision that it wasn't worth the risk. I guess at this point in my life is where I changed from being the person who thought he deserved something, to the person who wanted to work hard and achieve what he was given. I did every little thing I could to get my knee ready to play again.
Following a gruelling 2012 and an even harder 2013 pre season I moved to Brisbane from the Gold Coast. To stop driving 3 hours a day, and was mature enough to finally move out of home. Starting the year off out at Wynnum with the Q Cup side things were going good. I was playing fullback and loving playing footy again. In Round 4 against the Melbourne Storm at Suncorp Stadium 2013 I made my NRL debut for the Brisbane Broncos. I only managed ten games this year due to a broken thumb, hand and a torn quad. But these were only minor after all I had been through.
Making my debut in 2013 I was ready to rip into the 2014 preseason. Having a decent year in 2013 I was aiming high and set my sights on the Kiwis side. A goal that was shut down and made to believe was unrealistic by a person I will not name. Darren Lockyer had retired a few years earlier and Corey Norman was off to the Parramatta Eels. We were left without a stand off. I put my hand up to play there and spent all pre season learning the new role. We had our first trial against the Cowboys at Redcliffe again. Switching from Fullback to Stand Off I was pulled off with 10 minutes to go. Happy with the way I played and rolling the socks down I sat on the bench. With 5 minutes to go the coaches put me back on at 6 to finish the trial. Defending, the Cowboys ran a block play with big Tariq Sims running the lead. Tariq received the ball and just as I turned to try and tackle him one of our 110 kg props had missed Tariq from the other side and flew directly into my left knee. BANG. It had happened again. The same field I had done my 2nd knee two years earlier, against the same team. It was all too much. Was my year over? More importantly was my career over?
I had scans and went to the surgeons office to have a routine meeting about what they were operating on. He said I had fully torn my MCL (Medial Cruciate Ligament) and needed to repair that along with my meniscus. BUT.… My ACL was only partially torn. He didn't want to get my hopes up but there was a possibility that following tests during surgery it wouldn’t have to be repaired. Which meant I would only be out for 2 months instead of 12. GOOD NEWS—maybe!! I don't think I had been as nervous as I was before this surgery. I am not a religious person but I messaged everybody close to me to cross their fingers and toes and to pray for me. Being so anxious I tried to stay awake as long as I could while they were injecting me with anaesthesia. Then all of a sudden I was awake. Hardly being able to open my eyes I manage to spot a nurse. I asked her straight away what they operated on. She pulled up a clipboard from the side of my bed and read that only my MCL and meniscus had been repaired. Both my arms went in the air and I started crying then fell back to sleep. I woke up a second time thinking it was all a dream so I belled the nurse again and asked the same question, to which I got the same answer. I was so happy. I was going to play football again this year! Doing the rehab was another battle but being more mature I respected it a lot more and understood my personal life plays a huge role in my recovery also. Coming back to play only four games in 2014 but for me was better than spending it on the sidelines. Four games of NRL is better than none.
So after all this, Why? Growing up in New Zealand to two sporty parents I inevitably loved sports. Playing everything from softball, cricket, athletics to basketball, touch and rugby, I dreamt of being a professional. But being best at rugby and enjoying it the most I chose to pursue that path. From a very young age my parents instilled in me that hard work gets you places. My older brother and I were always down at our rugby club practising kicking, passing and stepping. I decided I wanted to play at the highest level at a very young age and no one was going to stop me. After a childhood of support not just from my parents and brother, but aunties, uncles, cousins and grandparents from picking me up after trainings, watching me play and following me from grass roots I didn't want to let my family down by giving up. It was the least I could do to repay them.
Throughout this journey I had some incredible people who each did their little bit to keep me going. And they were apart of why I didn't want to give up. My close friend Alex Glenn, writing my initials on his wrists through the whole of the 2012 season, dedicating each game for me. I have never told him how much it meant but every game I saw it, made me desire to play alongside him one day. So if you're reading this bro, thank you A LOT! I grew a strong bond with my trainer who was there through the 2011 and 2012 knee reconstructions, Andrew Croll (Crolly). Having him remain so positive throughout the two years every single day made turning up to training so much easier. Him along with the head physio Luke Anning (Frank) putting extra time into my rehab. When I got hurt, they felt my pain too. So I wanted to pay them back by doing everything I could to get back playing. I know on my debut they were just as proud of me as anyone. I will definitely have a special bond with these two for the rest of my life. The Broncos, a young kid who had only played 20 + under 20’s games to have faith in me and re-sign me after not playing for two straight years. A massive leap of faith by a club who could've easily let me go. They kept me and I will be forever grateful. These people are partly why I was so dedicated to come back. To pay them back for helping me through such a tough part of my life.
All these people helped guide me back to where I wanted to be, but something else was going to happen which made me realise why everything was worth it. It wasn't during the time of my injuries, it was years later. September 2015 I had my first child to my beautiful partner. It finally sunk in that all the years of hard work, countless comebacks, I was doing for her. I want her to grow up and know her dad to be the man who never gave up. I want to be her motivation to follow her dreams and accomplish what she sets out to do. Yes, nothing will ever work out perfectly, there is no perfectly straight road to success. But if you want something enough, it can be done. She is the reason I put my body through so much torture week in, week out. She is the reason I still do. She is my why!
Thank you to everyone who has been involved with my sporting career thus far, from NZ to Keebra Park, Brisbane Broncos and most importantly, my family. My partner Jess who has been there from day one through this all, I owe you a lot and I love you so much. I know there are people who have had it way worse than I have, in sport and in life but I am happy to be able to share with you what was a tough point in mine. I know times get tough and you may not have something or someone to keep you going. You may not have a ‘why’ to get through it all but trust me, in the future you will look back and be so proud of yourself for pushing through. And ‘why’ will be so much clearer. I hope this can motivate someone to chase their dream, no matter the set back, AND to never give up!
Michael Jordan - “If you're trying to achieve, there will be roadblocks. I’ve had them; everybody has had them. But obstacles don't have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”