This article was written by Melissa Muscat.
Sport. It can enable you to feel the highest of highs and lowest of lows. As a true sports lover who watches passionately from the stands, I’ve witnessed both ends. When my team wins a premiership…not much else compares. When they finish last, you write the whole year off as a bad one. As a professional sportsman or sportswoman, the feelings and emotions must be at another intensity. Being part of an unsuccessful team is one thing, but when it involves matters out of one’s control like injury, that’s another level. There’s lots that can go wrong with the body but from knowing those who have endured the ACL rupture, it’s this one that seems the cruelest of blows to many athletes, namely due to the nine to 12 month time frame it takes to recover. Just last week our very own Socceroo Daniel Arzani was confirmed to have ruptured his ACL on debut for Celtic. Sending sincere get well wishes to our youngest World Cup hero, hoping his recovery is strong and swift.
Some of those who have endured the ACL injury and who have come back stronger include A League player Rhyan Grant and NRL player Josh Mansour. W League midfielder Amy Harrison is in the process of recovery to her come back. In speaking with these professional athletes to find out just what goes on in a player’s mind over the extended period it takes to recover fully, their stories are inspirational. From the grueling physical aspect, to the difficult emotional rollercoaster, the one thing all these sports stars have in common is that whilst they acknowledge the road to come back is tough, it is possible to come back bigger and better.
Sydney FC defender Rhyan Grant, is all too familiar with the ACL injury, having recently come back from his second rupture. Grant recalls the latest mishap, ‘It happened in July last year during pre season training. I was just completing standard passing drills, hyperextended it and just felt it go.’ Grant says he knew straight away it was his ACL as he had suffered the same injury with his right knee previously. ‘The physio was trying to be positive but I knew. Initially I was devastated but I got straight into rehab and got on with it.’
Grant credits the professionalism of Sydney FC for getting back efficiently. ‘I felt I was ready to play after 10 months but then I broke my arm in a surfing accident in the off season so it was 14 months all up. I would’ve been playing after 12 but it was good in a way that I had the whole pre season before game one. All of the Sydney FC staff were exceptional, not just the medical staff.’ Asked if that’s what got him through physically and psychologically, he quips, ‘Yes. You just have to do it (the rehab and recovery). When it’s your career, you stay focused. You train everyday anyway, regardless of whether you’re injured or not. I still had fun with the boys everyday at training.’
When asked if he had any advice for current players enduring the same injury, Grant’s answer was emphatic. ‘Yes. Enjoy your downtime, having weekends. Turn it into a positive, enjoy some of your hobbies. Don’t give up on it, players are coming back better than they were.’ Those wise words couldn’t be more timely, with Grant playing his 150th A League game last weekend and receiving his second Socceroos call up also last week. Congratulations on a wonderful feat Rhyan Grant. Hobbies? My spies tell me he and former Sydney FC defender Seb Ryall are budding DJ’s…watch this space.
NRL Penrith Panthers player Josh Mansour, suffered a similar fate during a training incident for the Kangaroos side in 2016. ‘I remember it clearly, I was having one of the best years of my life. I made my Origin debut, got married, was training for the Kangaroos and then just like that, I felt the knee go. I knew straight away, it was a very sharp pain and I know my body. I knew it wasn’t good. I left training and went into my room on my own. I was just lying on the bed contemplating.’ Mansour recalls it was a horrible feeling being there alone and going over in his head, ‘Why me, why now after the year I’ve had?’ Straight after that training session his teammates joined him to offer their support. The timing was also made worse as he was about to go on his honeymoon but was forced to cancel. ‘The toughest part was making the phone call to my wife. It was about 11:00 pm before I called her.’ The talented winger flew back to Australia and had the operation almost immediately after his arrival.
Mansour explained that the recovery is similar for most athletes who suffer the injury but unlike Grant, his training was mostly done solo which is what made some days tough and he therefore needed to have a lot of self motivation. The Panthers were also inclusive, inviting him to travel on game days which was a positive but sitting on the sidelines is not what he does well, by his own admission. ‘That’s when things started to resurface, when I saw my teammates playing on game day but that also gave me the motivation to focus and get on with what I needed to do.’
When asked if he had any advice for anyone currently recovering from an ACL injury, his words of inspiration were as follows, ‘If you don’t have the right mind set or attitude, that will be your toughest battle. You must be prepared for sacrifices or you have to question if you really want something.’ Remarkably Mansour was back playing after only six and a half months. ‘I was pedantic with my training regime and stuck to my exercise plan. I looked after my entire body, I didn’t drink alcohol, watched my diet, got adequate sleep…made a lot of sacrifices all round.’ Furthermore, ‘Believe in yourself, it’s tough but tough times build character. Know you can always get yourself out of whatever you are thinking or going through. Don’t underestimate the power of the mind.’
Remarkably, Mansour informed me he reached out to Daniel Arzani via a message on Instagram only last week which led to a lengthy and positive phone conversation between the two. A total class act. For some of the criticism rugby league players get, this man is proof there are also genuinely wonderful ones.
For W League player Amy Harrison, unlike Mansour and Grant, her injury happened during a game for Sydney FC. She also knew straight away that she had torn her ACL. ‘It was January this year against Newcastle. I knew what had happened because it was my second time. My first thought was ‘Not Again.’ I knew what it took to come back last time and yeah, it’s not fun.’ The one positive for Harrison is that this recovery has been quicker than the first. Her come back is imminent, hopefully within weeks. This will make it two months earlier than her previous knee reconstruction which she credits to having been through the process previously.
When asked what got her through, Harrison replied, ‘Have good, positive people around you and focus on what you can control and work hard. I gave myself a little reward for every month of progress.’ Harrison continued, ‘I spoke with Rhyan Grant about his recovery. There’s a little knee club family and we chat with one another to touch base. The recovery is a long term goal but focus on the short term steps and achievements. Celebrate the small wins.’ The young midfielder concludes with this final piece of advice, ‘Look for other avenues that will take your mind off the full recovery. The process strengthens you beyond what you think you’re capable of. Always remember there are people worse off.’
So whilst the ACL injury is a tough one to endure, there is also a strong message from the inspirational athletes who have shared their first hand accounts, that there is no stopping a bigger and better comeback. Wishing Grant, Mansour and Harrison all the very best on the upcoming season, preseason and recovery.
Photo: Jaime Castaneda