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.
Everything was coming along smoothly as 2013 rolled around. A solid foundation of rehab had set me up to really attack pre-season in a really focused and succinct mindset.
My rehabilitation took a massive step forward after getting through the gruelling pre-season camp on the Sunshine Coast before Christmas — ‘money in the bank’ as the boys used to call it — and I returned in good shape, ready to make up for lost ground as I was eager to impress and show my fellow peers the reasons as to why the Hawthorn Football Club took a chance on me back in the 2011 draft.
The exhaustion after each pre-season session is something I vividly remember. I recall how I would often retire to bed at the early times of the night and how short my conversations would be with family or friends when I got home.
I was still adjusting to the very real demands of preparing for the official season. It was definitely a feeling of being physically exhausted but it was also a pleasing sensation, too. Knowing that this was my job and how privileged I was to be an AFL footballer (my parents raised me to never take anything for granted). There was also the common feeling of fear and not knowing what tomorrow would bring in regards to how tough the session might be.
I was still a teenager at this point and these sessions took their toll on me energy-wise, but leaving it all on the track is one of the more satisfying feelings you can have.
I was feeling great throughout pre-season camp and was able to run a personal best in our time trail on return. I felt fit and really good about how my rehab had been conducted but, most importantly, I was on the cusp of being able to play with my teammates again for the first time since my first pre-season game the previous year. I had earned respect with how I held myself throughout my time being in rehab — the majority of which I spent alone running laps and putting in the work. I just wanted to prove myself on field.
But January 13th, 2013 is a day I remember clearly, unfortunately for all the wrong reasons.
It was the second week back from the Christmas break and we were finally exposed to some match simulation, much to the relief and excitement to the playing group. I couldn’t help but feel even more elated as I’d been given the all clear to participate in high intensity training and to say I was keen would be a gross understatement.
I was finally able to take part in these drills and step up the final stages of my rehab after having ticked every other milestone off under the guidance of my rehab coordinator and now close friend, Phil Merriman.
However, my excitement and eagerness was met with despair and disbelief on that disastrous day in January as I attempted a maneuver I hadn’t even imagined, let alone tried, to execute.
The ball was at ground level during a match simulation drill and I attempted a pirouette as I gathered the ball — jumping off my right leg, spinning to avoid contact in the congestion and landing on the same leg while my body was continuing to rotate. If I had landed it, I would’ve received perfect scores from the judges but that was not the case and I had ruptured my ACL… again.
Fair to say, anyone would’ve been in a fair bit of strife after pulling a stunt like on the field.
I still kick myself to this day about that incident and putting my body through something I shouldn’t have been doing. But to counteract those feelings of disappointment, I often tell myself that football is played with the best intent and on many occasions instinct takes over and that was very much the case on that day.
I should never blame myself for something I did instinctively.
As soon as I felt that ACL tear, I knew straight away of the severity of what had happened. There was a lot of pain compared to the first tear, whereas previously I didn’t actually know I’d ruptured my ACL at the time until it was confirmed on the Monday after the game. This time was different, this time I knew — this was painful both physically and emotionally.
Like a lot of ACL ruptures, there is 30 seconds of pain followed by numbness, which is the fluid building up in the knee and that was exactly the feeling I had endured.
After feeling that pop and my knee collapse, the thought of having to go through another extensive period in rehab was one I identified immediately and my eyes started to well up — I couldn’t hold the emotion in.
There are a few photos of me that have popped up throughout the media of me on the ground with a few tears in my eyes. I wouldn’t say those images are easy to look at and I clearly remember the atmosphere around the place after I went down.
The feeling around the playing group and the club’s staff had shifted. It went from excitement to shock. Everyone was silent, you could hear a pin drop. Like me, everyone else knew the severity of what had just happened.
Immediately after hurting my knee I was helped off the ground for further assessment. It was to confirm the inevitable as physios and medical staff around me hung their heads in disappointment as they tested the stability of my knee — there was a lot of give and not much take. The ACL was no more.
As I returned to the locker rooms absolutely devastated with what had happened, I grabbed my phone, hobbled into the medical office and sat there with a bag of ice on my right knee as I tried to hold my emotions in preparation to tell my father the news of what had just happened.
To say it didn’t go so well is a fair assessment. I was quick to lose self control and absolutely collapse in a heap over the phone as I spoke to my father regarding my ACL rupture for the second time. I couldn’t put a sentence together and his disappointment and frustration was voiced — he couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
Thankfully (I still remember this gesture to this day), Luke Hodge walked into the medical room and offered to speak to my father for me as I tried to calm myself down once again. It was that kind of leadership and support that meant so much to me over the years at Hawthorn.
Hodgey was always good like that and on that occasion it was exactly the help I needed.
This time around, I had to wait two weeks before getting surgery. Mainly due to the swelling in my knee but there was no rush for me to get back that season even though I was optimistic of at least playing one game that year post surgery.
What’s interesting is that once the swelling in the joint has subsided, you can do most activities. Besides moving laterally, my movement was quite normal — I was even in the gym strengthening my quads to save some time post-surgery.