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Player injury diary: Sophie Holyman

The Queensland Rugby League’s fortnightly player injury diary, presented by TPIL Lawyers, provides greater insight into how our Hostplus Cup and BMD Premiership athletes return from injury and how they overcome the physical and mental challenges that can come with being sidelined.

This week, Burleigh Bears and Harvey Norman Queensland Maroons forward Sophie Holyman shares her comeback story from a labrum injury in her right shoulder.

Player injury diary: Sophie Holyman

It was in Round 6 of the BMD Premiership last year – playing for the Burleigh Bears - when I felt my right shoulder crunch.

At the time, I just thought nothing off it. I got up, I kept going and just thought I pulled up a bit sore the next day.

But then in the weeks afterwards, I started getting funky nerve shoots up my neck and I was not able to sleep on that side. When I got into Harvey Norman Queensland Maroons camp in late May, I asked the physio CJ (Carly Jennar) to look at my shoulder.

Holyman in Origin camp. Photo: Scott Davis/QRL
Holyman in Origin camp. Photo: Scott Davis/QRL

She tested it and said, ‘I think it’s your labrum.’ She was right - I had a labral tear in my right shoulder and, as I learnt in time, I also had something wrong with my AC joint.

I knew then it required surgery to fix it but I could play on.

For me, it was a no-brainer. It was a case of, how do we manage this to get through Origin and through the NRLW season?

It became frustrating when I was sleeping but for me, it was just like, I’ve been given this news and I have my first NRLW season with Canberra, I have two Origin games to play… it’s something I’m going to have to manage.

I have a high pain tolerance and I am able put injuries to the side, which can be a good thing and a bad thing. I’m quite stubborn.

Before this surgery, I’d only had a clean out from my knee and even in my return from that, or any sort of injury I’ve had in the past really, I’ve really rushed my rehab. I’ve still done it properly but I’ll do a return to run for example and run 100 metres on the first day and then run as many kilometres on the second day as possible.

I’ve actually been smacked with injuries since playing union sevens but this one, I knew it was going to be something that would put me out for a few months.

I feel like injuries are always something I’m dealing with or overcoming and I’ve become really good at just getting bad news and making something good out of the situation.

And for this one, I really knew I had to get it right.

Finding out about my shoulder, instead of being like, ‘great I’m going to have five months off footy, I’m going to be in a sling, I’m not going to be able to do my hair,’ it was more like telling myself, ‘this is an opportunity to have a break and refresh my body.’

During Origin and the NRLW season, I had to be strapped every training, every game. It was anti-inflams and the old numbing needle to manage that pain.

Sophie Holyman. Photo: Scott Davis/QRL
Sophie Holyman. Photo: Scott Davis/QRL

The Raiders were fantastic at managing me and took over from CJ in Origin. They were so great.

Between the QRL and Raiders, they organised my surgery to be straight after the season.

It did play on my mind a lot, knowing I would have to have this surgery and thoughts did creep in before playing like, ‘am I going to make it through this game?’.

It was a bit of a burden to know I had to have this surgery because I don’t like slowing down.

But I made it through the season and then I had my surgery in October, which went really well.

I had to be in a sling for six to eight weeks and there had to be no movement for a certain amount of time.

Getting changed, doing your hair, things like that, is really difficult and a sling is extremely frustrating. The one thing that really got to me was doing my hair. All I wanted to do was tie my hair up.

So, to get through the start of my recovery, I went down to Victoria to spend five weeks on my partner’s farm and to be looked after.

I normally don’t ever stop working or training. But this injury forced me to take five steps back to really recover properly and that’s something I did do.

My bosses at work were really fantastic in letting me do my thing in my own time.

I got to work from home and outside of that, I just spent some time on the farm, really just relaxing and recovering and that made the whole process a lot easier, especially having someone there to look after me.

At first it’s just about rest and you have to let it heal. I had the Raiders, CJ, (QRL Physical Performance Manager) John Mitchell, everyone from Origin constantly checking in on me.

For the first few weeks, it’s all about getting range of motion back. You just can’t move it. The small movements make such a difference.

When the time was right, I got back into training pretty quickly and I have a really good exercise physiologist who worked with me to show me how much I can do in a sling still.

I also had CJ do my rehab. I’d go see her or we’d have Zoom calls and we’d just go through really gentle exercises.

I was lucky to keep moving because that was hard to step back so much. It mentally takes such a toll.

Even though I’m okay with having an injury and crossing that bridge and the obstacles that come with it, it still does affect you.

It’s like you’re taking 10 steps backwards sometimes. You see everyone else training and you start to think, ‘will I be playing the same footy when I’m back?’. You start doing backflips in your own head.

But then the small wins when you start back training, that helps the motivation kick up.

It’s definitely a bit of a  cliché but for me, to get past those thoughts, it took a lot of self-reflection on where I am and where I was and reminding myself that it’s my hard work that’s got me where I am today, it’s no one else.

If I can make it to where I am now, I can do anything.

It’s a lot of reassurance and knowing I can be better than what I was then.

I feel like I’ve come back fitter and faster and stronger, which is super exciting for me. I feel like a different player to be honest. I’m excited to get out, play some good footy and see how I go.

And to finally tie my hair up is a massive win.

The shoulder is still a bit of work in progress - I have my range of motion back, my confidence is growing, I’ve been running since pre-season started.

I had a minor setback with a back injury – sometimes when you focus so much on one part of your body, you forget about other parts – but for me, it’s just been introducing new drills each week.

Each week it was just gradual, which brings me into this week which is my first week where, hopefully, it’s game week. I am on track to play this Saturday.

It’s so exciting. Coming back to Bears this year, we have the same team with a couple new great additions. It’s such a great environment there.

I learn so much from Cookie (coach Scott Cooke) and to be with Duzzi (Chelsea Lenarduzzi) and Zahara (Temara), a lot of those girls, it makes me so happy.

It’s such a fun team to be around, they train so hard.

Watching them play the first two rounds this year, it was so hard to stay on the sideline, so to run out there again this weekend, it’s something I wasn’t sure was going to happen this year.

I’m looking forward to being able to play a game, definitely.

It’s been an ongoing process to come back and I’ve had a lot of people in my corner and this has shown me to just really trust the process.

Acknowledgement of Country

Queensland Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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