This is the story of how I ruptured my achilles and followed a conservative rather than surgical approach to manage it that resulted in hiking the mountains of China 5 months later.
In August 2017 I ran out to play football with my amateur football team. We were deep into the last quarter up by a point when an opposition player marked the ball in their forward pocket.
Being a team minded defender I rushed over to the player with the ball and quickly informed them that I had seen them handing out how to vote cards for Pauline Hanson at the recent election.
They were a little rude to me as they walked back to have a shot on goal but I took it in my stride and said that there was nothing wrong with bigotry, George Brandis said so.
And so from the pocket, the kind hearted bigot ambled in, took a slight turn and played on. I had anticipated this and promptly took off. Only to feel someone kick the back of my leg.
I fell to the ground clutching the back of my shin, turned around and told my assailant to piss off and leave me alone.
Unfortunately there was no one within 20m of me. And I couldn’t really seem to work my foot very well.
I reached down and ran my fingers firmly down the back of my calf. All was well until I got about 2-4cm from my heel where all of a sudden there was nothing there.
Like nothing, no resistance, no fat and no achilles.
Realisation was dawning on me
The game was in it’s death throws, my friendly advice had worked and the yet-to-self-identify-as a Pauline-Hanson-supporter had kicked a point. Scores were tied.
I crawled across the goal line, waved at the bench and waited for a stretcher as the tired players on both teams ran into each other and fumbled the ball on the wing.
I’d always said that I was one injury away from retiring, but for 5 years I’d been ridiculously lucky and not been injured. This wasn’t what was meant to happen.
As I was daydreaming all of a sudden a player that looked a bit good for the league won the ball, burst through 3 tackles, ran to 50 and kicked the ball.
I was shocked, there was no one within 30m of the goal, the ball was coming straight at me. I was going to be able to save the game, be the hero and stop them from kicking the winning goal.
The ball screamed in from the 50m arc, with a herculean effort I used the goal post to haul myself upright, I balanced on my good leg and flung my judas leg at the ball.
The ball hit my leg, it deflected but instead of the ball flying 60m back over the kicker’s head as I had envisaged, it spun off my foot, over my shoulder and through the goals for the opposition.
A point. The opposition were up by a point. And I had kicked it.
The siren rang.
My career over, my pride ruined, I’d kicked the winning point for the opposition.
Anatomy of what occurred in the Achilles
The achilles is a tendon. Tendon’s attach muscles to bones.They are extremely strong.
Think of them as a really tightly bound horse’s tail, so tightly bound that you can’t see the separate fibres but rather it just looks like a really strong bit of rope.
Their role is to be the anchor from which muscles can contract and relax to pull bones through space.
The achilles is the anchor from which the calf muscles help us standing on tip toes or for us to jump or walk or run.
So why had mine snapped?
A lot of bad luck, a little bit of old age and some perfectly awful biomechanics.
Usually force is distributed evenly across the body but if a movement is poor, a muscle tired or a load too much something will have to give.
In my case I’d gone to run forward, had tried to push off my left leg with my left knee straight, the calf muscle had contracted but it had been in a lengthened position.
This meant that there was greater than normal load on the calf muscles and the achilles tendon.
The tension on the achilles was high in this position and because I am a little older than I once was instead of the achilles giving a little or tearing a slight amount my achilles snapped straight through.
And the two ends pulled apart. Like a lot apart. So much so that when I moved I could feel my now unanchored calf muscle swinging around in ways that were decidedly disconcerting.
Over the next week I will be posting more articles around the advice given by the surgeon, the decision made and the rehabilitation.
Errol St Osteo: Mastering the Ageing Process One Injury at a Time