Does the strength and determination needed to come back from serious injury create champions?
No one wants an injury, and it takes a special kind of person to wish an injury on someone else. Yet injuries these days in the world of surfing always seem to precede some sort of a cracker season. It seems that if surfing is removed from someone who lives for the sport, then so much more care and dedication is applied to get that sport back, to get back in the game.
It started with Mick Fanning, way back in 2004. He was fairly new on the Championship Tour when a catastrophic injury saw him rip his hamstring clean off the bone, pretty much. With his life in front of him, and the chance that he might never surf again, Mick turned injury around to triumph by training, training and then training some more to get back in the water. Mick did everything. He got his body fit, and he got his mind fit. He worked on being supple, on having core strength and on his diet and nutrition. He applied his mind to his training, and came back racing, muscling his way into his first world title in 2007. He set a precedent.
Jordy Smith had a bad run of injuries in 2015, with a serious ankle injury in West Australia at the beginning of the season, and just when he was starting to improve he pulled his back out in July at the JBay Open. That put paid to his competitive year and his surfing in Hawaii was just for presence that year and nothing else. Yet something happened to the big South African during that time, when he couldn’t surf and was forced to watch webcasts of events taking place in some of his favourite waves around the world. When he came back, at the beginning of 2016, it was full-bore all the way through to the season finale, and a runner up finish on the world title hunt. Not bad, after a season of debilitation.
Steph Gilmore’s injury-plagued 2015 season finally cleared for her 2016 campaign, but there was niggling and a little bit of uncertainty as she fought through her season, with average results and a sixth place at the end of the year. It was as if Steph had slowed it down, and had taken the year off to go a little slower, to get fit and to mend her body. The campaign could well have paved off, as she kicked in her new season fully recovered and into a massive win at Snapper. Steph looked strong, confident, and at ease with herself and her body, with no signs of anything bugging her, as she double shaka’d some closeout sections just for the hell of it whilst competing. Her win was well deserved, and she is always a popular winner, but it does seem like she is back stronger and more determined after some tough times.
The most remarkable of the injury comebacks however, must be the story of Owen Wright. Head trauma injury at Pipe and much rumour and speculation about the extent of his injury last year left many fans of the sport unsure as to when, if ever, Wright was going to get back in the water. The stories that were filtering out were pretty bleak, and the underlying uneasiness of a head injury left many thinking that, like Schumacher, his road to any sort of recovery would be long, and he might never surf again. Well, he proved everyone wrong, and although his interviews seemed a little bit more controlled and thoughtful, it was the Owen of old who tore the long, tapering walls of Snapper apart for what was undoubtedly the most important victory of his career and quite possibly his life. By beating Wilko Owen just proved beyond a doubt that when the mind is strong, anything can be achieved. Well done, champ.