Playing The Field by Ashleigh Nelson

Road to Rehab – Part 1

Ashleigh Nelson

Hockeyroos Ashleigh Nelson begins a series of blogs on the injury that ruled her out of another Olympic Games followed by the challenges of rehabilitation…

Who would have thought 100 days till Rio would be so significant?

In an athlete’s mind it was a clear reminder that we had 100 days to perfect those last few skills, 100 days to finalize structures and 100 days till the team was 100% ready to take the field. The last thing that I thought it would mean was 100 days of rehab and 100 days of knowing that I wouldn’t be going to the Olympics.

After tearing my ACL in my left knee in 2004 at age 17, I knew that if this was the case then my dream of a second Olympics was over.

Post surgery with my partner Aaron

Post surgery with my partner Aaron

As magical as sport can be, it can be equally brutal, something that most athletes know all to well. Sadly, as fate would have it 100 days out from the Rio Olympics I tore my Anterior Cruciate Ligament during an intra-squad game for the Hockeyroos.

It was such an innocuous incident with my right knee giving way as I planted my foot to pass the ball. In hindsight I wish I had been selfish and ignored my free teammate, but clearly my time of having an intact ACL was up. As you can see in the video below it was a remarkably unspectacular event, which is sure to get no more than 10 views!

For those who have not had the pleasure of tearing their ACL, along with their lateral and medial meniscus, with a dose of torn hamstring in there too; well …….. it bloody hurts. Tears were not shed given there was no room for them, amidst the groans and expletives that were pouring out of my mouth (fortunately not captured on camera).

It was a confusing couple of minutes for me, unsure if I had dislocated my kneecap (which would have been preferable) or torn my ACL. After tearing my ACL in my left knee in 2004 at age 17, I knew that if this was the case then my dream of a second Olympics was over. It may have been the adrenaline or the sheer will to prove that I hadn’t torn my ACL, but soon after the incident I got up and walked off the field with minimal discomfort.

Surgeon Keith Holt operating on my knee (Credit: Hockeyroos Physiotherapist Erin Smyth)

Surgeon Keith Holt operating on my knee (Credit: Hockeyroos Physiotherapist Erin Smyth)

Trying to keep composed I followed Eddie Maguire’s advice and phoned a friend (more specifically my Mum) to take me to the Sports Physician and to get scans to see the true damage. Still trying to play the injury down, I thought it best to help myself to a bowl of sultana bran while watching the rest of the game.

Sadly despite my best efforts my composure and positivity about the whole situation came to a grinding halt. Tests by the Sports Physician indicating a positive full ACL rupture were confirmed by a MRI shortly after.

Being a relatively positive person, I have had many people query if this upset me at all. Short answer is ABSOLUTELY. How could one not be upset?

Since age 5 I have been playing hockey, making my first state team at 14 years and then debuting for the Hockeyroos at 21. That means that I have dedicated 15 years of my life training at a state or international level all with the aim of playing at the Olympics Games. To then not have the opportunity to test and put into place everything that you have worked so hard for is heart breaking. What’s more frustrating is that nothing I do will change the outcome. No matter how hard I rehab, no matter how much I want it, I will not be ready for Rio and that reality is what really hurts.

Brief respite from the leg splint

Brief respite from the leg splint after surgery

Something that sport has taught me however is resilience. The last few weeks have just been a moment in time albeit a difficult one. What I do know is that I have had moments like this before and have found a way forward to not only be a better hockey player but a better member of society. Hockey is a huge part of my life and will continue to be, however it is not who I am. These next few months will be dedicated to helping the Hockeyroos group I dearly love achieve our team goal, start on my road to rehab and explore different ways and means of remaining involved in women’s sport.

If you’re keen to hear about the intricacies of an ACL rehabilitation then follow my “Road to Rehab” series where I will write what my focuses are week by week, the physical and mental obstacles of rehab life and exercises that I am doing to regain function and fitness. This may be a good tool for those who are also in rehabilitation for an ACL repair, those who work in the area of exercise physiology or people who simply want to know what it takes for an athlete to come back from an extensive injury.


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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Eoin Christie

    May 31, 2016 at 9:48 am

    Thank you, Ashleigh.


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