Alex Woodward’s AFL career was unfortunately short lived. He played two games for Hawthorn in 2014 but spent five years on their list — the majority of which was spent rehabilitating three full knee reconstructions. Since entering into retirement after rupturing his ACL for the fourth time at the start of the year, Woodward has penned a blog detailing his journey. See the full column at www.more4titude.com.
As an 18-year-old and new to the AFL system, my mindset was simple — to earn the respect of my new teammates by working hard and having an appetite to learn.
Being exposed to my first pre-season at the Hawthorn Football Club, I recognised areas that I needed to improve and players that I needed to approach in order to better myself.
Asking questions, watching training habits and listening to tips was the way I wanted to go about things in the early stages of my career. I wanted to learn as much as possible, especially under the guidance of some of the AFL’s elite.
Players like Sam Mitchell, Brad Sewell, Jordan Lewis, Luke Hodge and Shaun Burgyone (the list goes on) were definitely more than enough for a young player to develop key attributes to improve their game.
An apprenticeship under these players, in particular Sam Mitchell, was something that to focus on especially in my first season in the AFL system.
With pre-season finishing up in February 2012, all the hard work the boys put in during the grueling training sessions were finally going to be rewarded with some proper matches in the pre-season competition.
I was absolutely thrilled to have my name in the squad for the first couple games and felt I’d worked hard and presented myself to the group in the right manner. I couldn’t wait to represent Hawthorn and put on the jersey (with the No.36 on the back), even if it was just a trial game before the official season kicked off.
My first game for Hawthorn would be in the second pre-season game in March 2012 as the Hawks took on the newly-formed GWS Giants, which happened to have many of my junior counterparts as they recruited heavily from the TAC under-18s system.
Knowing that I was starting the game in the midfield at the first centre bounce, I couldn’t help but be nervous. However, I was excited more than anything and was itching to get out on the field.
Running out of the change rooms on a sunny day in Launceston was a great feeling and I was privileged to represent the club that gave me the opportunity that I’d always wanted. Once the game started my focus was clear and succinct — simply to be in the moment and enjoy the experience.
Unfortunately, as I was able to find my feet and get my hands on the ball early, my first game ended prematurely as I was caught up in an innocuous tackle where I had twisted my left ankle and right knee at the same time.
I originally waved off the medics as they ran to my aid. I was hoping it would be an injury I could play with or run out. As I continued to play for a further couple of minutes, I finally came to the bench and was quickly assessed by the medical staff.
I told them my ankle was the thing that was giving me grief. While they were assessing my ankle, I also mentioned to them that my knee had been feeling a little different to how it usually feels and they told me that it was best for me to start to ice up.
My day was done and I would be needing scans on my injuries the next day. Disappointment dominated the rest of the day and my emotions turned to fear due to the unknown until scans were completed.
Initial diagnosis was fairly unclear and the medical staff knew there was something not right but there wasn’t enough evidence to provide me an answer with what was wrong with my knee.
Come Monday morning the worst was confirmed. Along with damage to my left ankle ligaments, I was also the victim of a right anterior cruciate ligament tear and would be needing a full knee reconstruction.
How quickly happiness turned to despair. I was hoping for the best but ultimately received the dreadful news of missing the rest of the season. I was showered with support from my teammates, friends and family — a lot of them knew how hard I’d worked to get to that point only to be struck down by an injury that requires a good 10-12 months of rehab while being out of action.
The news of needing a knee construction at 18 years of age was obviously devastating but it left me with a fair bit of uncertainty as I had no idea what I was in for having not had a long term injury before in my footballing career.
After meeting Julian Feller, a renowned specialist knee surgeon, we opted for a right hamstring graft as part of my knee reconstruction. Pre-surgery the nerves kicked in but once I was under anaesthetic it all seemed like a blur and I woke up with a lot of pain coming from my right leg.
The pain post surgery was something that was unexpected but the surgery was a success. There were no problems with the surrounding ligaments in my knee and a full recovery was expected.
Struggling through the first couple weeks at the house I shared with two teammates (Jack Gunston and Luke Lowden), I was also rehabilitating damaged ligaments in my left ankle as well. I was fairly crippled the first few weeks post surgery.
Being couch-bound and continually icing my newly repaired knee and recovering ankle was not ideal but it did give me time to reflect on what I still wanted to achieve that year.
The early stages of rehab allowed me to learn a lot about my body and some of the habits that I had, especially diet wise, that weren’t necessarily helping me. At that point of my rehabilitation, my cardio was limited and I needed to look after my body shape so I was ready when it came time to step up my program and get going with running and some higher intensity drills out on the track.
Learning about dietary requirements, my body type and building healthier habits that could help my recovery is something that I still rely on today and I’m glad I invested in the help of the club’s dietitian, Simone Austin, and high performance manager, Andrew Russell.