A week-and-a-half out from an 18th birthday, most teenagers are excited at the thought of officially being considered as an adult. Courtney Hodder, though, was coming to terms with a sobering reality.
She broke her leg, badly, just as she was beginning to establish herself as one of rugby’s brightest young Super W stars.
It makes her journey to a Brisbane Lions debut — where she kicked a goal and laid six tackles against Richmond on Sunday — as fascinating as it is impressive.
As a three-time under-18 All-Australian, Hodder seemed destined for the AFLW from a young age.
But at just 16, the dasher needed a new challenge, and it came in the form of rugby union.
“[Aussie rules] was something I knew inside out. All of my mates at school were playing rugby, and I wanted to be involved in what they were doing,” Hodder told aflplayers.com.au.
Playing for Western Australia in the inaugural Super W season, Hodder wasted little time showcasing her prodigious talent, highlighted by a stunning six-try game against Melbourne.
But then came that fateful leg break.
“I broke my leg a week-and-a-half before my 18th birthday,” Hodder said.
“I was in a boot for about four months, I had three surgeries, it was a really long process.
“My leg, there was no muscle at all, it was basically just skin and bones by the time I got my boot off.
“It was a struggle to walk. I had to wean my way in by using crutches and rely on the walls in the house, so it’s a big mental battle as well.
“[It was] probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with.”
Making her Super W comeback, this time for the Reds after moving to Queensland, Hodder was feeling the pressure to return to her best.
“You used to play a certain way, you were looked at a certain way, and to come back and not be as good as what you were, that was hard to accept for me,” she said.
“I had to accept the fact that ‘I’m now going to run different; I’m now going to play different’.
“I did drop my head a bit, and being out for two years you lose motivation, concentration, everything just feels like it’s going downhill.
“I was just lucky to have the support of my family and friends there to really drive me and push me to getting back.”
And despite a bright start to the resumption of her rugby career, Hodder had already begun to contemplate an Aussie rules return.
“I wanted to make a statement that I could make it back [from injury] playing rugby,” she reflected.
“[But AFLW] was playing on my mind [throughout] my injury.
I thought ‘What’s going to make me happy? Where do I see myself in the long run?’”
It sparked a conversation with Brisbane AFLW coach, Craig Starcevich, and Hodder soon became a Lion.
The 20-year-old caught eyes during the pre-season, and was rewarded without a round one debut.
“I was excited and nervous at the same time,” she said.
“We were playing 14 v 14 in the practice matches, so we had a lot more space then.”
But less space means more tackling, and after laying six of them on Sunday — an equal game-high — Hodder’s rugby-honed skills are already on display.
“Rugby’s really helped me with having a quick step, being aware of people around me, who’s coming at me, and also tackling, that’s a big thing in rugby.
“It’s made me really dominant in my tackling which has made the transition a bit easier.”
From being a teenage Aussie rules prodigy to a rising rugby star, then recovering from a badly broken leg, Hodder now seems set for a long and fruitful AFLW career.
“I think I’m in for the long haul,” she said.
“Coming back after three years, I just want to see how much I can grow.”