Nathan Freeman’s fortitude has never been questioned. In fact, it has become stuff of legend in St Kilda circles, and to anyone who knows him.
The story has been well publicised — drafted with the 10th selection by Collingwood in 2013, Freeman first injured his troublesome hamstring during a 2014 pre-season clash against the Cats. It was a setback, but hardly a forerunner of what was to come. But the bad luck continued.
Fast-forward to August 2018, and Freeman is on the precipice of achieving a boyhood dream, some five years later than he first intended.
To encapsulate his toughness, commitment and determination, AFLPlayers.com.au spoke to a number of his close confidants to find out more. From his agent, to teammates and childhood friends, each connection provides a unique insight.
Of everyone that was interviewed, there was one prevailing theme.
“He’s the most resilient person I’ve ever met.”
Robbie D’Orazio — Connors Sports
“He’s the only player from our list who when he comes into the office, he spends two hours and buys everyone a coffee. He will go into the back section of the office, chat to the admin staff for hours on end with a smile on his face when he’s going through, in football terms, one of the worst stretches of injuries in the history of the game. He puts a smile on everyone else in the room when you would not begrudge him having a sulk.
Secondly, Taylor Garner is another player I manage and he has also ripped his hammy off the bone, and Nathan, despite everything he is going through, is helping Taylor through it. He is going out of his way to help Taylor with his recovery and provide some tips on what he could do differently and some specialists he could see. Most people just become selfish and look after themselves, but he is going to look after someone else.
I would hire Nathan if football didn’t work out for him, because he is such a people person and I know he wants to remain involved. In fact, Nathan has told me that he will play for free next year if the Saints decided to cut him loose. That’s how badly he wants it.”
Karl Amon — childhood friend who grew up playing with and against him
“When I played my first game for Port Adelaide Nathan was so supportive and congratulated me, and even heading into a random game he’ll get in contact and ask if I’m playing. He always watches out for people.
He is a footy nerd, whether he denies it or not! For him to go through what he has gone through and still be here and still be in a position to play footy shows how strong he is mentally. Whatever happens to his body, he will come out the other end.
People haven’t had the opportunity to see what he can bring. Playing alongside him at school and TAC Cup and against him in juniors, he’s one of the best players that I’ve seen and played with during that time. What he does around stoppages and his speed and explosiveness is unbelievable. We used to give him a bit of crap because he likened himself to Paddy Dangerfield and Luke Shuey, but he really was that type of player.”
Tony Brown — Player Development Manager at St Kilda
“He’s the most resilient young man that I’ve ever come across. I took him in for his most recent surgery he had on his hamstring, and we were driving on the Nepean Highway and he was just looking through the AFL app and found a story on himself. I glanced over and I said, ‘How do you go about reading that about yourself?’ He smiled and said, ‘Browny, I feel sorry for that bloke, it’s like it’s not me, but it is me!’ I just laughed after he said that. I was amazed by the fact that he reads stories about himself and having another setback before he goes into surgery and he thinks, gee, that bloke has it tough, but not actually seeing himself as the injured person. I thought that was fascinating.
He’s such a positive human that is trying to get everything out of himself and leaving no stone unturned. I admire him as a person and an elite athlete — the fact that he has gone to Germany twice — one of those times was off his own bat. He’s doing a real estate course through Holmesglen. Previously, he hasn’t invested a lot of time in off-field engagement and upskilling in other areas because he has spent his whole career trying to get his body right. Now, he goes in two nights a week — which is fantastic — so I am pleased that he is actively engaged in something away from the field. I’m big on that for all of our players.”
Sam Gilbert — St Kilda teammate
“I was in rehab with Nathan for 4-5 weeks after he hurt his shoulder, and for someone who has been injured for so much because of his hamstrings, he was so excited to be able to do a different form of rehab. He was almost jumping out of his skin to do a bike session and actually use his legs because he’s always had to do upper body and use the grinder. I thought to myself, ‘You poor man!’ Imagine never having the opportunity to change your rehab up just because you’ve continually had the same injury! He’s extremely selfless, and he’s a realist. When he gets injured, he is straight onto what he has to do next rather than feeling sorry for himself. You never hear him complain.”
Marcus Krygger — Strength and Conditioning Coach at St Kilda
“He’s the most resilient person I’ve ever met. He has had setback after setback after setback, and what is amazing is that he can process pain, agony and the disaster, and then 10 minutes later he will be fine. Then he would be thinking, ‘What’s next?’ A prime example was when we played Richmond in the VFL and he hurt his shoulder. When the injury occurred, he knew straight away that he was in a fair bit of trouble, and he was devastated as you can imagine because he had done all of his rehab and it was his second game back.
He was on the bench and was distraught and not saying much, and 10 minutes later, he was on the boundary coaching his teammates. Telling them where they should be running and what they should be doing. That is an example of how quickly he can process things, and then deal and cope with a particular situation. I have spent many weeks with him along the way planning his rehab, and he has never said, ‘Marcus, I’m not doing that.’ He always has a smile on his face and attacks it the best way he can which is remarkable when you consider how many sessions he has done by himself or in the gym. Nathan’s ability to go the extra mile is inspiring. He will train during the bye weekend when his teammates are away. He has even trained on Christmas Day.
It’s funny, ‘Freeo’ follows footy closely, he loves it more than most, so when Harley Bennell is playing or has a setback, he’ll say, ‘Did you hear about Harley Bennell injuring his calf?’ He follows the other players who have waited a long time to play and are almost journeymen. When Paul Ahern debuted for North Melbourne a few weeks back, he said, ‘How good is it that Ahern is going to play this week!’
I’m not sure how well documented this has been, but Nathan paid his own way to get to Germany last off-season. He went there the year before and felt that he benefitted from it, and so he wanted to do it again and funded it himself! I don’t know how much that would have cost, but I imagine it would not have been too cheap! He won’t die wondering.”
Haydon Whitehead — Punter, Indiana Hoosiers and Nathan’s childhood friend
“Nath and I played junior footy against each other since under-10s but have been best mates since we both started school at Haileybury College in 2010. From our time there, he was always the kid that was pretty relaxed and easy-going outside of footy, but as soon as it was game day or time to train he would flick the switch and be really detailed and professional in his mindset and approach. That’s what he’s always been like and I think that ability to separate personal life and footy is something that has been able to keep him so motivated and persistent the last couple of years.
Even though I moved to the U.S. last year, we still talk on the phone two or three times a week. Any time he tells me he has pulled up sore or tweaked a hammy again, it probably seems like I am more frustrated and worked up about it, but he never lets it get in his head. Instead, its straight back into recovery in the most professional way.”