NAT FYFE: Shouldering the burden
Fremantle star Nat Fyfe writes exclusively for The Weekend West on dislocating his left shoulder, going for surgery and the long road back.
Rnd 3 – Dislocation
Immediately after I’d hurt my shoulder I came to the bench and pulled the joint back into place. As much as I tried not to think about the consequences, I knew I’d undone all the rehabilitation from last year’s shoulder operation. I was thinking it was worse this time around, but as all players do you try to push through the pain and get back out there. The decision was made to substitute me out of the game. The next 48 hours were a confusing time. That night I spoke to our physios, doctors and briefly to coach Ross Lyon about what action to take. It was a mental roller coaster. I’d convince myself that I was fine and able to play on — no worries. But each time reality would hit and I’d be flat again. I had the scan first thing in the morning and it revealed what we had all expected. I’d re-damaged all of what I had fixed from the last surgery. However, like last year, there was still a chance I could play on.
Rnd 4 – To play or not
We were keen for a second opinion from a surgeon in Melbourne. It left me in limbo. I couldn’t really train, but I couldn’t really do any strengthening work either. I just had to let the week unfold. The club decided to wait until our team flew to Melbourne on the Wednesday ahead of our Friday night game against St Kilda. I packed my boots as if I was going to play, flew with my teammates and saw the surgeon Thursday morning. He recommended undergoing the Latarjet procedure. It would be 12 weeks from when he cut me open to when I could step back out on the footy field, which was a lot quicker than my previous surgery. By playing on I wasn’t going to do any more structural damage, but I was going to be in pain and unable to play to my full potential. The concern at Fremantle was if I reinjured my shoulder during the game and had to be subbed out, then I was a liability to the team. I didn’t want that. That night I sat down and wrote a list of pros and cons. I struggled to sleep. When I woke up on Friday morning, I’d made the decision I was going to try and press on and play. I did the walk-through in the morning with the boys, kicked the footy around and jogged, and swung my arms around like there was nothing wrong. But I sat down with the coach and our fitness staff and that’s when we decided my preparation had been compromised. The strength that I could regain in a week was enough to warrant not playing against the Saints. I watched the game from the box and was pacing up and down, riding every ball-up of the win.
Rnd 5 – Playing in pain
We tried different strapping techniques. We’d strap around my waist and up around the top of my shoulder and really lock the joint down so I could hardly lift my arm above my head. I trained solidly during the week. I allowed myself to go for a few big hits. I couldn’t do any tackling, but I could bump and I could still get in there and win the ball. I played against Carlton, but wasn’t 100 per cent confident going in. I was really scared that I was going to be a liability. I was thankful to get through the game and contributed well enough, but when I had to extend my arm I was vulnerable. A couple of times where there was a 50-50 ball I pulled out because I knew that if I got crunched my shoulder would dislocate and I’d be done. I elected instead to let the Carlton players pick the ball up and then try and tackle with one hand. You just can’t hide out there, especially with the opposition knowing there’s something wrong. They come after you. Monday was a tough review of my game. It became clear that if I was going to play on I’d have to contribute more than that and go in harder.
Rnd 6 – Gone again
I made a decision on the training track on Tuesday that I would go as hard as I could and see what happened. I took a couple of big hits and got through them. Then we were doing a three-versus-two ball movement drill. I went to tackle a player and they tried to step around me. I threw my arm out to corral him and despite it being strapped it dislocated without me even touching him. I fell to the ground and had to shake it back into place. We called the surgeon in Melbourne and I was on a plane within 24 hours. Once the decision was made to have the operation, I was more at ease. I felt I had done most of the emotional heavy lifting after the initial dislocation. I’d accepted my fate and was ready to get on with the healing to come back stronger than ever.
I was told to have two weeks’ rest, so I got away from footy. I went home to Lake Grace. I didn’t read the papers or watch any games on TV. I tried to zone out as much as I could and that helped. When you’re in the footy bubble, everything is about the next game and your performance on the weekend. When you get removed from that, it puts things back into perspective. I couldn’t do much because I had one arm. I’d go on the truck with my old man. Mum has got horses, so I’d help her feed them, and I spent some time with my brother and my mates. I went to the local footy and watched them win by 48 goals. I couldn’t drive for about three weeks, which was frustrating. I had to get lifts around the place. Ten days after the operation, I flew back to Melbourne to see the surgeon. He ripped my arm out of the sling and pulled it as far as he could in all directions. I was shocked at how he did it. With last year’s surgery, I was in a sling for four weeks and I was gentle with my shoulder after that. This time it didn’t hurt per se, but there was new scar tissue in there, so it felt weird. Moving my arm like that gave me a lot of confidence. I spent another four days back at home before returning to the club on May 17.
The road back
Back at Fremantle I started doing an intensive weights session on my lower body and my good arm. That would be anywhere from five to eight lifts a week. I spent time on the cross trainer and the stationary bike with my arm in a sling. I was trying to maintain some aerobic fitness. I dropped about 2kg in that time. From May 30, I started going to Cottesloe and would walk along the beach in the sand for about 5km just to get all the intrinsic muscles in my calves and feet working again before I started running. I steadily started doing isometric holds. They involve holding a certain force for a certain period of time in different positions to try and strengthen the repaired joint. That progressed to active movement with exercise bands and slowly I started to do weights again with my injured arm. From June 14, I was able to start running and kicking without marking. Right now I’m spending eight hours a day at the club, six days a week. Out of that, three hours are spent in the gym, an hour or two doing aerobics and another hour-and-a-half on physio and massage. I’m trying to cram half a pre-season’s work into eight weeks on an accelerated program. I’ve been lucky to have a lot of one-on-one time with our physios and fitness staff. They’ve been able to drive me really hard, keep me focused and give me the attention that’s put me ahead of schedule.
I’ve been given a few projects by midfield coach Mark Stone to keep my mind active. When I watch the footy I try to put myself mentally in those positions and ride the hits with the players. I watched Carlton’s Andrew Carrazzo play against West Coast last week. He’s just come back from hurting his shoulder. It was uplifting to see he was one of the better players on the ground. There were some cringe worthy moments when I thought to myself, would I be able to stand up? I have no doubt that another three weeks of strengthening and with some big hits before I go and play, I’ll be on par with where I was before the injury. I wouldn’t know that I’d had an operation now unless I was to put the shoulder in a vulnerable position and then it pinches a little bit. On Thursday it was seven weeks to the day since surgery. If you’d told me I’d be able to move it like I can, I wouldn’t have believed it.
I feel for players who are out for the rest of the year because there’s not much light at the end of the tunnel. Instead I’m thinking about myself and when I’m going to be back playing for the team. In the back of your mind you want the team to be winning every game so we’ve got the best chance of playing finals. But being out of the loop a little bit you don’t carry the expectations and stresses that come with playing AFL week in, week out. My running will progress in coming weeks and the weights will increase. When I see the surgeon in a few weeks, he’ll give the shoulder a final scan, check my strength and my range of movement and hopefully give me the all clear to continue playing. I’m looking forward to that date. I’m pretty confident that the shoulder will be as strong as it was before the injury. My routine is quite intense at the moment, but I’m lucky I’ve got a goal to work towards.