Daniel Kirk

Finding A Purpose Again

Daniel Kirk
Finding A Purpose Again

The moment that changed my life forever

 I suspected it was serious, but I didn’t know how bad it was.

I was playing on a half forward flank when I led out three minutes into the game and went to jump at the ball. As I came down, I compressed my lower leg, which resulted in a compressing and shearing of the cartilage in my ankle.

You underestimate how durable your ankle is. It’s like we think in any field sport that it’s only an ankle and we’ll strap it up and get it back out there. Yet, as you start to go through week after week of rehab and it doesn’t get better, you start to understand that it’s one of the most complex areas of the body. Once you damage it properly, there’s not a lot you can do to find a way back.

I moved clubs at the end of that year and went through another 12 months of training and rehab to try and get back to playing, but it was a futile attempt. At the end of that season, the club and I had a meeting. The club was so supportive, but everyone in the room from doctors, physios to coaching staff were eluding to the fact that my ankle didn’t look like it’s going to improve.

So they gave me a decision to make. Do you want to go around and do this all again, or is it time to pull the pin?

That was the first time I acknowledged it.

I was pretty stubborn about it, I went on looking for surgeries in different countries that were much more advanced than surgeries in Australia, but in the end, it was too costly. I ended up trying to get someone in Melbourne to recreate the procedure that they do overseas, but I wasn’t as successful as I’d hoped it to be.

So in essence, it was really two and a half years later that I accepted that, shit, this is it. It’s not getting better any more and I need to consider what I want to do.

I miss all of it to be honest, especially being able to run and jump. I used to dream about it every night for the first 18 months, those dreams would mostly be me running around a football field, pretty much floating effortlessly.

Coming to a realisation

I used to work at the South Australian Sports Institute, where I had a few people encourage me to explore the para athletics option after pulling the pin on footy. I was concerned that if I started playing it and then got better through other surgeries, then I’d be stuck in the void between para sports and able bodied sports.

However, I got to a point after two and a half years post injury when everything changed.

I remember it being my fifth time at the pool doing rehab that week and when I got out, I couldn’t make it back to the car properly without a huge amounts of pain, while having to cling to walls that could pull my body weight off my injured leg.

So I got into the car, googled the Australian Paralympics number and I rang them, met them in Adelaide the following week and it all started from there.

Finding my passion in para-athletics and learning a new craft

I’m eligible to be classified with an impairment below the knee, which is a 44 class in athletics. The criteria that make me eligible for a Paralympic event are the loss of power and the restricted range of motion, as I have less than 20 degrees in my ankle.

Going from high level football to competing in discus has been a huge change.

After playing so many sports as a young person, coming into an athletic event, I kind of expected to pick it up quickly. It was a bit naïve to think that I’ve learnt so many different skills that learning only one should be easier.

For me, it felt like it took forever. I was frustrated by learning the technique and searching for rhythm, not to mention overcoming the limitations of the leg pain. Discus is the most technical event in all of track and field, but that only gives me a greater appetite for the event.

My event is one of the strongest across Para-athletics, which means it’s not going to be an easy pathway for me. But it’s something that’s provided me with purpose again.

It took me ages, but once I got an orthosis made (which is a brace that goes over your ankle and my lower leg to support movement and take pressure off the ankle), it restored enough function to perform.

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It took about 6 months to really get comfortable with my orthosis and from there I’ve learnt how to manage my leg better, like making sure I limit the amount of steps I take during the day so I have more time for gym work and training.

In the two years since my injuries, I’m now lifting almost a couple of hundred kilos in deadlifts and squats and close to 300 kilos in hip thrusts, so it’s amazing to realise what I’ve been able to achieve through clever management.

Pulling on the green and gold and breaking the age barrier

It’s unreal representing Australia. I remember when I first pulled on my state jumper for Tasmania, and it was one of the proudest moments of my career. To do that for your country, to pull on the green and gold and to go out onto one of the best stadiums in the world in front of a crowd that loves para sports in London, was phenomenal. I was lucky enough to have my wife over at the event, which made it a surreal experience.

You put these limitations on yourself as an athlete, where you go I’m too old to be drafted or too old to make a state team, and people tend to put a line through your name when you hit 30. In essence, it’s all just about managing your body.

If you want to have that longevity in your career, then you’ve got to make smart decisions and be disciplined to keep playing at that level. It’s amazing what you find you’re capable of doing when you apply yourself.

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Dealing with more rejection, but having a bright outlook for the future

It was pretty tough to miss out on selection for the Rio Paralympics.

I had to be realistic though, as I’d only been in the sport for 18 months. I’d achieved the minimum ‘B’ qualifying standard twice which is sometimes enough to gain selection.

However, because it’s so competitive, there’s still quite a distance to be a threat for a podium finish. Given the situation, it’s a case of ‘well he’s probably not going medal in this event, but someone else may be a chance in another event,’ so the other athlete is likely to take priority.

Chatting to other athletes, knowing how long that development normally takes to make it and seeing close friends of mine who’ve been in the sport for 12-15 years and miss out narrowly puts it all into perspective.

It was kind of humbling to know that you got so close, without making it, but it’s exciting to look ahead to world championships and other events. It sucked at the time, but you’ve got to be able to turn that into something.

I’m very ambitious in what I want to achieve. I want to break the world record and win a gold medal at an international event. I want to be the first person to throw 66 metres in my class, which is a challenge that I’m looking forward to.

Feature Image by Australian Paralympic Committee

F44 Para Discus Athlete - Sport Scientist - Community Advocate

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