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  • Writer's pictureElana Withnall

An Elite Athlete's Experienced With Injury upon Injury

When your body is your business - injuries become your deepest fear.

Almost eighteen years of competitive elite level sport, and I've sure had my fair share of unfortunate circumstances.

Countless X-Rays. Rehabilitation programs. Sports doctors. Physiotherapists. Sports Psychologists. Heartaches. Devastation. Reality. Drive. Determination. Comebacks.

One body.

One hell of a strong-will.

Where do we start....

Having started athletics at the age of six; it fortunately wasn't until about the age of twelve until I experienced my first major injury.

I broke my left foot. High jumping. On my local grass track.

Simply warming up for training, I twisted my foot in a small hole. Almost like a sprain; but much to my luck - I actually ended up breaking a small bone in my foot.

The day before my year six graduation, I attended dutifully on crutches.

This occurred about 6 weeks out from a Regional Little Athletics championships.

A big deal, for Little Lani as I endeavoured to do my little Club of Old Bar proud, competing in my pet event the high jump - as well as the 200m, 80m hurdles, 400m and the long jump.

I was determined I'd be better by then. And able to race. To the point I swam in the backyard pool everyday. Did sit ups and push ups off the side of the pool.

And all the physio' recommendations in the world:

But D-day came. After 6 weeks of no running.

I went back to the sports doctor to get permission to compete at the regional championships.

This was he first time in my short life that is experienced heartbreak.

That Doctor broke my heart.

Even though my little mind was so determined. All that hard work is done to make sure I was fit to run again.

The X-Ray said otherwise. It was still broken.

No regional championships for Lani.

As I cried in that doctors surgery. I knew this was something I wouldn't be giving up on; anytime soon.

And as I had to sit there, in the crowd, watching those girls compete in MY event at that regional championships. While I was on crutches.

Watching them; knowing I was stronger. Waned it more. And could've jumped higher.

Making me all the more determined to be there next time round.

And to make it my own.

It wasn't until I was fourteen that I experienced another major injury.

After a few years if success with the high jump; being my preferred event.

I found the 400m.

It was a different kind of pain. Running as fast as you could; for so long. Holding your form the best you could for a whole lap.

And then in the last 50m when your body was telling you to stop; when the pain felt too much.

Your mind battled to become stronger.

And cross that finish line with resilience.

I was state 400m champion that year, and was fastest to qualify for an Australian u14 National championship final.

I remember running the fastest I ever had. My body inevitably couldn't take it.

And as I tasted glory; so close.

Coming second in Australia with 20m of the 400m race to go.

Hearing the crowd roar of my home stadium. My name announced over the loud speaker.

Something went terribly wrong.

I collapsed.


My whole body flat on the track.

Face first.

And I heard a loud ''ooooooh'' of the crowd; as everything seemed to be happening in slow motion.

I couldn't grasp quite what had happened. But I knew everything hurt. My face, my limbs, my stomach covered in blood.

Something wasn't right as I could barely walk... my right ankle; was bloody sore!

I was trying so hard. Running the fastest I ever had before. I was shaking. And my ankle was weak - and I sprained my ankle during the last few strides of that race.

Costing me a national medal.

My pride.

And my body.

As I picked myself off that track, received a roaring applause form the crowd.

(One of those fake 'good on ya for getting up' applause that you always join in with; but hope it's never you).

I Finished the race with the fastest hobble I could manage.

I was then carried off to First Aid.

Where I met a super woman; Ms. Vinya of 'Hands on Fitness.'

A Physio therapist extraordinaire, super-woman, friend and mentor for the first time. (unfortunate circumstances) who I now have grown to have a very special friendship with.

That experience taught me on thing.

After running so close to glory; pushing my body the hardest I ever had. And wanting something; more than I'd ever wanted in the world... Well then it's worth fighting for.

''Fall down seven times; get up eight...''

At fourteen years old.

I got back on my horse.

Won some more titles. Broke some records.

Traveled the country doing what I love!

The next major injury wasn't fortunately until I was sixteen.

4 days before I was due to fly to Tasmania for the Australian Athletics Championships.

As I trained at my normal grass oval, I trained at all through my teenage years. Doing a drill I'd done countless times that week.

I rolled an ankle. Skipping. The same ankle, two years prior.

I couldn't walk. All I could do was cry.

The pain; knowing my Tasmania adventure was so close.

All the hard work I'd done months prior in gaining the honor of representing my state against the best in the country.

Seemed like t was taken away from me.

But as I tortured myself. With a foot in a bucket of iced water; for twenty minutes off - twenty minutes on - repeated.

I wasn't going to give up that easily.

Mum and I got on that plane, four days later.

And I represented New South Wales in the 100m Hurdles, 400m Hurdles, 400m and the Triple Jump.

With physio appointments after every event.

I managed to qualify for every final I contested in.

My will was stronger than my sanity.

And I ended up running a seasons best 400m hurdles time; with a sprained ankle to come fourth in Australia.

Although I deeply wanted to place.

My real medal was a lovely purple ankle for three weeks following. And more physio. And rehabilitation program that confined.

Sixteen. And I was then old enough to compete in my first heptathlon.

Lani's Event.

I fortunately received success in my first seven-events winning a state title and All Schools medals in almost every competition.

Training for the heptathlon was never boring. I ALWAYS had something I could be working on.

But it was mine.

Finally an event where all the competitors did seven events. And feel the same debilitation.

Not just the crazy girl who did everything.

And then I was eighteen.

I briefly moved to Sydney following the completion of my HSC Exams, to train full-time.

In hope of making the 2012 World Junior Championships, in Barcelona.

Everything was on track. I was strong. I was strong-minded. And I was excited at the possible opportunity to wear my first Green and Gold uniform.

Alas, it wasn't meant to be.

High jumps drills. Done time and time again.

But an accident. A roll of the ankle.

And this time a serious sprain and ligament damage to the ankle.

I returned to Old Bar. To get family support and physio.

Four weeks out from the state heptathlon titles; I was determined not to let it stop me.

It was swollen. I was in a lot of pain. But I kept on training (as crazy as I was; and little did I know how bad I was making the injury).

And, I contested in that event. Four weeks later.

I represented my club. In those seven events. To the best of my damn ability. With the best strapping and physio advice (reunited with the amazing Vinya from the first aid room).

And I finished. Second in the state.

A miracle? Or sheer will, over the facts.

I paid for it later.

My ankle never fully recovered from that; to this date.

As I trained for another two months with a swollen ankle to be good enough to compete at the World Junior Titles / Australian Championships.

I did all I could do. Within reason (and advice from physio's and coaches).

I got there. To that start line of the 100m hurdles. The first event of seven, I had to successfully compete in to make that Australian Team.

Friends and family cheering, supporting.

I was in a lot of pain.

To the point where I had to hobble to my starting blocks.

I ran. I came second.

But it hurt; so bad.

High jump was next. I decided to continue competing.

And then shot out to follow.

By this time - my performance was debilitating.

Everyone could tell something was wrong.

I battled, internally.

- Keep competing and 'maybe' make an Australian team against the odds

- Stop now, give up everything I'd been working for over the past year

Vinya sat me down. Gave me the cold hard, medical facts about what could happen to my ankle if I continued competing.

But she then gave me the cold hard facts about why I was doing this.

Still to that date; I remember the chilling honesty in her tone. But the love in her intention.

I knew what I had to do.

It was either; make it as a junior but possibly end my senior athletics career.

Get my shit together and make it as an Open's Athlete - against the 'Big Girls' for years to come.

One of the hardest decisions if ever made.

I had to withdraw from that competition.

The first and only time I've ever some that; in my eighteen years of competitive athletics.

But you know what; one of the smartest decisions i'd ever made.

I came back on day 2 of competition.

With crutches and a boot on my foot.

It was a fracture to my foot.

My foot was broken.

And because I competed on it so much; being Damaged. I have a constant reminder of this story.

After three months in that boot.

No running. A hell of a lot of swimming. Gym and rehabilitation.

My ankle eventually healed.

But the bone calcified, because of the pressure I put on it while it was trying to heal.

And I will forever have a large, swollen looking right ankle.

My opportunity to represent Australia overseas; eventually it did come.

The following year.


I didn't give up. I persevered with that dream.

I knew what I wanted to do.

And that was stand on a podium with that green and gold uniform.

In whatever country in the world.

Whatever competition.

At whatever age - I was determined to make it happen.

In June 2013, I tracked to Tahiti to represent Australia at my first international competition.

The Oceania Championships.

Some of my fondest, most cherished memories, moment and friendships came from this experience.

And I did a lot of growing. I was named Australian flag bearer at the opening ceremony and I was honored - with a sense of pride for my country; more than I've ever felt before.

It was indescribable.

Then came competition day.

Both ankles strapped. Ready to take on the world.

I soaked it all up. The culture. The languages. The beautiful country-side we had the joy of being able to compete in.

And I relieved that dream for the first time.

Finishing first place, after seven events.

I became the new Oceania heptathlon champion.

And that smile, in that green and gold, on that podium. Couldn't have been bigger.

I built on this experience. This gift.

And worked harder for bigger and better things.

The following year I qualified again, to represent my country; for the same competition.

But this time it was the Cook Islands.

And this time; I'd broken my back at the

2014 Australian National Championships - a few months prior.

Throwing the javelin.

After months of rehabilitation. Chiropractors. Acupuncture. And gym strengthening.

I was on that plane to the Cook Islands.

And delighted to be experiencing it again with some of my dearest friends. And former roommates.

Some unfortunate - personal misfortune only a week prior.

This competition was for me.

To prove I am a strong independent woman.

Capable of anything without a man.

And so that's exactly what I did.

I set out to do me. (And take out some frustration in the javelin; too of course).

The Cook Islands were incredibly beautiful. However we were not blessed with ideal competition weather.

Day one of the heptathlon was tsunami weather.

Rain so intense it knocked over the high jump bar, before I even got to it.

And made hurdles hard to see.

I was worried about slipping - at risk of hurting my back.

But wanted to do my country. My family.


I lost myself in that completion.

The determination through grief and anger.

Athletics has always been my therapy.

And I put it all on the line here.

Throwing in a back brace; and matching green and gold RockTape of course -

I was in second place in the second last event of the competition.

With the 800m to go - I needed to win this, by a number of seconds to take out the competition.

And a gold medal, for my country.

I dreamed about.

I wrote it on a wall - months prior to the conception.

'Oceania champion.'

And looked at it every single day when I woke up.


And faith. That if God wanted it to happen. I'd get over that line. Fast!

And in that 2.20s of that 800m. I wasn't going to let anyone take it away from me.

I fortunately took it the race. Battles the back pain. The anguish. The emotion of the last few weeks.

And after a broken back; I was stronger than ever.

And crowned 2014 Oceania heptathlon champion.

The next season brought a serious hamstring injury. Having torn my bicep-femoris, it became increasingly painful to accelerate. To sprint. To throw. Or to jump.

To I had to make the heart wrenching decision to dedicate the rest of the season to 400m hurdles. Because it is a 'speed endurance' event; unlike the heptathlon that requires power and optimum speed. I could compete the 400m without the cramping, debilitating pain - as sprinting gave my hamstring

So, I gave it all I got.

My first 400m hurdles in 3 years and I fortunately qualified to represent New South Wales at the Australian championships, only three months away.

So Mike-Super-Coach and I had a new plan. 400's and a lot of lactic.

And with God's will as week as the gift of guidance of my lovely friend Jana Pittman (former 400m hurdles World Champion) at the time... I was making this event, mine - as best I could.

To get out of the season all I could and not just throw in the towel of months of hard work.

So, in April I contested in the Australian 400m hurdles National titles.

RockTape matching my club.

And running for my life.

But a terrible start, and cranking hamstrings down the final straight - lead me to just missing the national Open's final by .05 hundredths of a second.

And that was that season.

The off-season I focused on strength. And precision.

My brief detour to try Bobsleding and then leading us to the 2015-2016 season.

An Olympic Year.

3 overseas trips. And countless solo sessions of pushing myself. My mind. My body for the heptathlon.

As the state titles were the first week of January's, I needed to make a qualifying point score for the heptathlon - go be eligible to compete at the Australian Olympic Trails. In Sydney. At my home track. In March.

I was going To be there.

Although, wanting up for day 1 of state titles told another story.

In classic Lani fashion, doing a simple hurdles warm up still. I'd done countless times that week.

I twisted my ankle. The ankle.

And I was in intense pain.

With twenty minutes until my first event.

I prayed.

I prayed that if I was supposed to be at Olympic trials I could get through this.

After event one, 100m hurdles.

With a newly sprained ankle.

I hobbled off the track, in second place.

And decided to push on.

With the help of my now long-term partner in crime - the amazing Vinya, again!

I made it through all seven events.

Was nine points off a state medal.

But most importantly - I qualified for Olympic trials!

April 2016. The day had come.

Everything I'd work towards.

To compete alongside the best in the country. Aiming for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Months of hard work. Battling little injuries, and then the return of a big one.

A stress fracture in my spine.

The first event went smashingly! A seasons best hurdles time and I was flying.

High jump proved otherwise.

I landed on the injured part of my spine and I felt it go.

Go like I'd broken it three years prior.

But I didn't want to give up. I wanted to finish. The best way I could.

Push past the pain - and hope for the best...

At this stage I had all the RockTape in the world, supporting the injured site.

Fracture to the L5 QL region - meant and bending or jolting movements, hurt.

Really really hurt.

When I came to day 2. And javelin.

I remember simply lying on the ground I between throws. Straight. Like I was mediating in a yoga class.

But really, I was deep-breathing through the pain.

And then suddenly it was one event to go.

My cheer squad, my Team Withnall, my coaches and other athletes got me over that 800m line.

Two laps never felt so long - as I was the first one round.

Then simply had nothing left.

As both hamstrings cramped toward the finish line.

I left it all in the track.

And I didn't one throw in the towel.

Against all odds, I competed a heptathlon. Again, with a broken back.

Managed to come top 8 in the country.

And importantly - gained the experience of competing against some of the most talented, athletes from around the country - in my first Olympic trials.

What I've learned from all of these 'Unfortunate Circumstances' is that although my will, my pain threshold may be stronger than any injury that has come my way.

I am not iron-woman. My body is fragile.

And sometimes you need to listen to the doctors. And do the wise thing.

I won't be at the Olympics this year.

God willingly; I'll make sure of it, that I will be someday.

For now I've endured three months of back rehabilitation. I'm lifting heavy again.

I'm determined. I'm loving my sport.

And I'm thankful for:

All those people , my coaches, my physio's, family and friends. my Team Withnall.

Those who have supported me and never left.

That help keep The Ultimate Dream; alive.

I'm thankful for:

The opportunity to be passionate about something without prosecution.

And especially thankful for;

the gift; to simply be able to run - pain free.

Until Next Time's thoughts...

Keep Dreaming and Believing.

Xx Lani

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