Nathan Ross

Road to Recovery

Nathan Ross
Road to Recovery

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I’d never felt pain like it before; sharp, pulsating pain running from my arm down to my leg. My back seizing up. It was incomprehensible. This was certainly the most traumatic experience I’ve ever had growing up playing Rugby League. At the time all I could think about was going from top of the world to whether I was going to walk again. I was asking myself “How am I going to take care of my family? Am I ever going to be able to pick my son up again?" There’s a huge difference in your mental mindset and it’s jarring and hard not to get drawn into a place of darkness.

I was diagnosed with a fracture of my L1 transverse process, which luckily enough isn’t weight bearing, but it still throws you a massive curve ball.  I realised quickly that it was going to require huge resilience to make my way back on the paddock in the time I wanted to. Round 26.

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It takes an event like that though to make you grateful for everything you have in life. I was lucky to have an amazing support network around me, particularly my partner, family and the club. They’ve all done so much these past few weeks. It ensured I could focus entirely on doing everything in my power to get my rehab on track and eliminate that fear or doubt of ‘what could go wrong’.

I can easily say the first 24-48 hours were the hardest to get through. Once I was diagnosed, I got home from the hospital that night after the game and realised I couldn’t even do the simple things around the house. I couldn’t pick up my son or hold my newborn daughter…it made me question if it was the smartest move to be a footballer! On top of that I had heavy medication running through my brain, warping my concept of what’s important and giving me a pretty negative mindset of everything that’s happening right there and then.

My partner was a gem. She gave me the time and space I needed while she looked after the kids and the house. I couldn’t have done this without her. During this time sleep, and in particular rest, played a vital role in speeding up my recovery process. I found early on that I was quite fatigued from the drugs being pumped through me. Feeling over-tired was not an option during this period. Having a healthy sleep cycle helped reduce the fatigue and I was able to power on with my rehab.

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You go from living and breathing the sport and the enjoyment of running out in front of 15-20,000 fans, to being sidelined on a wattbike or cross-trainer, watching the boys train. Everything goes from revolving around the game to being put on the sidelines. It was hard but every day is focused on the recovery and not the game. If that was what it was going to take to get back on the paddock then I was going to achieve it.

There’s a real sense of darkness and isolation, and I think some players, not only in Rugby League but every sporting code, get hit harder than others because it requires a totally different mental mindset to get yourself back on the paddock. I’ve built on prior experiences of injury and rehab throughout my career which has given me a sense of resilience in overcoming adversity and fighting my way back into a team.

All it takes is a split second, and everything is on hold while the rest of the team can progress and move forward. Everyday I’ve been strict with rest and recovery, following every step of my rehab plan to a tee. I have a photo on my wall which breaks down my regime for me and holds me accountable for my recovery. It’s very easy to skip a step or rep when you’re feeling fatigued or alone in the gym. I continually reminded myself that ‘If I can hold myself to these goals it’ll help build the little steps needed to get me in the right headspace for my return to football’. That accountability helped me get through the routine of eat/train/sleep. Quick and effective recovery was key to get me back on field fastest.

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When you’re injured you’re immediately looking for tips and tricks to speed up the recovery process.  I was willing to try anything to get my body back in top condition. I went as far as taking up one of the boys, Jamie Buhrer, on his recipe for some bone broth. I whipped that up and was drinking cups of it every day.

I’m extremely lucky that I have a close-knit team. I was back with them within a week after my injury. I just wanted to be around people from the club. Browny (our coach) was keeping in touch with me, especially throughout the first 48 hours after the injury. He even offered his wife to help my partner out, taking care of the kids. It’s the little things like that that help you practice gratitude and recognise what matters most in life – my family and my wellbeing, I need to be able to take care of them.

I can’t thank the club enough for allowing me to get back amongst it at my own pace, however my pace and mindset is like a bull at the gate so I’m probably a bit different there. Rugby League is my outlet and nothing compares to game day. It’s my chance to have fun which is probably why I’m so keen to get back around the guys.

I felt a real sense of obligation to the fans and the club for helping me get back. I feel my relationship with the fans is better than ever. During my time off I got involved with a few of them at one of our home games. Watching from the sideline is actually more stressful than playing. You’re constantly analysing, thinking what you could have done if you were on the field. You just have to accept that rest and recovery is a process and you must trust that process. I’ve truly come to appreciate that largely through my experience over the past year.

It’s the biggest difference when I compare myself to a season ago, particularly one game against the Roosters in Round 3. It was my worst game in the NRL to this day. I say that because I used to put a lot of pressure on myself. I’d over think every single little thing in each game. I’d think “what if I drop the ball or get caught out of position…I’m gonna have lost the game for the boys.”

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It’s a huge negative stress that you put on yourself which is only amplified through being injured. I’d worry about the outcome of the game before I’d even set foot on the field. Through experience I’ve learnt to focus on what I can bring to the team; big energy, a good attitude and where I can have the most impact. No more worrying about the singular mistakes which can wear you down mentally. It was a big transition for me and it has emphasised why I practice gratitude and mindfulness every day since then.

My mindset, my hunger for getting back on the field with the boys has me back a week early. I ask myself, if this was my debut game, what would I do? I try and think about how hungry I was then to get back into the team. You need that same hunger to continually go to the next level when coming back from injury. This is why I’m putting my hand up to play this weekend.

At the end of the day, I’d encourage anyone who might be in the same position as me to focus on goal-setting. I’m huge on positive reinforcement. If you set yourself the goal of making a rep team or making the A’s and you don’t make it at that point in time, don’t get upset. Focus on what’s in your control and take smaller steps towards your ‘main goal’. Don’t let fear or frustration hold you back.

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Take me for example. I wanted to build on my City vs Country performance earlier this year and make the Origin side. That didn’t pan out this year so my next goal is to make the Prime Minister’s XIII. I needed to get back on the field to be in the running.

You have to lock yourself in. Do everything you can to push through that place of darkness and get to happiness at the other end. If the mind is willing, the body will follow. Trust yourself, trust your network and your mindset, the results will come. I’ve done just that and I know I’m ready for my next challenge – Round 25.

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