Heyman targets Asian Cup after injury rollercoaster in 2017
The headlines after Wednesday night’s 3-0 win by the Westfield Matildas over China PR were all about stunning goals, dazzling displays and Australia’s relentless attacking mentality.
But another, less heralded, ray of sunshine on a brilliant night was the late cameo from an Australian striker who’s had her fair share of injury challenges this year.
2017 has been a thrilling year for the Matildas. Though for Michelle Heyman, 29, it’s been a rollercoaster, in her words, as she battled a stubborn injury she picked up 11 months ago.
That trademark big smile is back.
She’s got on the pitch on Wednesday night as a late substitute and, who knows, she may come on again on Sunday against China PR in Geelong.
Heyman is now targeting Asian Cup 2018 in Jordan as the stage for her return to full power and pace.
But rewind a year and her nightmare began.
In late December 2016, she snapped all ligaments in her ankle, breaking her big toe and the tendon and fracturing part of the bone.
Her ankle should’ve snapped in half. It didn’t.
All ligaments snapped, though, and there was a lot of fluid that didn’t disappear. There was bone bruising too.
The doctors weren’t sure what to make of this injury. It was very painful.
It wasn’t pretty.
She missed Australia’s tournament of nations in July and August as well as the Brazil matches in Australia last September.
Heyman had “experimental” injections to “re-pop” the ankle to break the scar tissue, while the endless hours in rehab – gym and physio - have given the Canberra United star striker a fresh perspective as well as renewed body strength.
She explains the challenge of coming back from injury and the mental challenge of being alone rather than being in a team environment.
“The start of it was very hard because I had no idea what rehab was and I had no idea of what to do. And being outside a team environment was very difficult.
“But the AIS took over my rehab where I had my own strength and conditioning coach, my own masseuse, physio and doctor – this whole team with me. And it was actually very rewarding.
“I watched myself grow and improve. Then I had a little set back and to overcome, it was a bit of a rollercoaster.
“And that’s what rehab life is like!
“I had a chat with the psych [psychologist] because I was mentally struggling. Because you’ve been around a team for all your life and suddenly you’re an individual.
“It was very, very tough in my eyes.
“I was trying very hard to be as positive as I can. But some days you wake up and it [the injury] wasn’t getting any better.
“I thought, ‘what is going to happen?’ ‘Is this game over?’ And then I realised, it’s not. One day I’ll start to feel a little better.
“Injecting saline into the ankle was a winner for me. I heard a big pop and it was so much relief. The ankle was normal and skinny again.
“Rehabbing a big toe, it’s one of the hardest things to do. You don’t think about toes when you’re running.
“Now it’s back to normal pretty much. I’m having little issues here and there but nothing compared to where I was.
“It’s nice not to stress now... I want to get out on the pitch. I know myself and what I can and can’t do and I’ll keep pushing myself so that I’m 110% to smash it for the Asian Cup.”
Who would doubt her after what she’s been through?