Striker Stephen Elliott on rehabilitation and his long term aims
United striker Stephen Elliott received a welcome helping hand on his road back to recovery from an Achilles injury when the Fire Fighter’s Charity in Eamont Bridge invited him along to use their Alter G anti-gravity treadmill.
The experienced striker, a Republic of Ireland international and a former favourite at Sunderland and Hearts, suffered his season ending injury in October when he felt what he initially thought was a kick on the back of his leg, and has been working hard behind the scenes ever since.
“When I got injured I was gutted,” he said. “I was obviously out for a long time before I came here and I was just getting back to playing again. I'd managed to get myself back fit and training and I was really enjoying myself.
“For something so different to the knee injury to come and finish my season was hard to take at the time. After the initial shock and anger I was just devastated, simply because I wasn't able to play football after waiting so long to get back.
“The club were great and they got me in to see the surgeon straight away. Touch wood it's been a really good rehab so far.”
Looking back at the moment it happened, he said: “I was in the left wing position. I went to close the full back down and, as I pushed off, it felt like somebody had kicked the back of my leg.
“I turned round hoping to see one of their lads behind me but there was nobody anywhere near. I went down and felt my leg and I knew what had happened straight away. It was really frustrating because I felt things were just starting to come together again.
“I wouldn’t say I was anywhere near my best but I was out there and the confidence and sharpness were coming back. It’s unbelievable that it was taken away from me again after just a few months. It was devastating, but things happen for a reason and you’ve got to dust yourself down and go again.”
Having already battled back from that career threatening injury, picked up early in 2013, he admitted that the fight is as much in the mind as it is in the recovery room.
“The mental side of the recovery is difficult,” he told us. “Once I'd seen the surgeon, and he'd told me what the protocol was, and I'd then spoken to the medical staff at the club, I was able to get my head round it.
“The first few months are probably the most difficult because you're in a protective boot and you can't do too much. When that comes off you get a bit more freedom, which is nice. Every couple of weeks you look back and notice you’re further on than where you were. It isn't a daily improvement you see by any means, but I’m really happy with it.
“The knee injury was a nightmare scenario because it took a while to get to the bottom of the problem. This injury has probably been just as bad, but it’s made easier because I’m contracted with a club and I get a bit of guidance on a day-to-day basis from Dolly. I can’t speak highly enough of him and the club, because they’ve been great.
“I spoke to the surgeon when it first happened and he gave me a minimum and maximum time for recovery. My aim at the moment would hopefully be to be able to take part in pre-season training. I’ll keep working through the summer to make sure I’m on top of that. I’ll probably have a week away with the family at some stage but my main focus will be on rehab.”
And on the inevitable low moments associated with any long term injury, he said: “You do get them but you know they’re going to come. When it happens you have to understand that your strength has to come from within.
“You can’t allow yourself to get too down when things aren’t going the way you want and, on the other side, you can’t start doing too much when you’re having your good days. You need to keep it in your mind that there’s a process with these injuries, and you have to stick to it for your own benefit.
“The good thing is I have a great wife and family and they are there for me if I’m looking like I’m thinking about things too much at home. Dolly is probably sick of the sight of me at work. I’m constantly asking him questions and he’s been someone for me to bounce off and get advice from. There have been a lot of occasions when he’s been able to put my mind at ease. You need that from a professional point of view, particularly if certain aspects of the injury are worrying you.”
“Short term I want to be in a position to be able to train, wherever that may be,” he continued. “I haven’t spoken to anyone about whether that would be here or somewhere else. I can’t look that far ahead at the moment. It’s obviously been a crucial time for this club and they’ve had more important things than my situation to discuss up to now.
“I’ll take the frustration of being injured because you can’t change situations, however much you want to. At difficult times I just remind myself that my aim is to be back and playing football again.
“It was the same when I had the knee injury. If I did start to feel low I just thought about the target of being out on the pitch and involved again. I invested in my career through the process of getting the knee sorted and I was delighted when it all came together.
“The experience I had with that has helped me to cope this time. That was my first really long term injury but it meant I knew what the protocols were, in terms of not trying to rush the recovery. Things have been right on track so far and hopefully that will continue.”
As for what the future holds, he said: “I think you always feel like you’ve got something to prove in this game. I haven’t played anywhere near enough football over the last couple of years so I want to prove to myself, first of all, that I can get back out there and play regularly.
“I was just starting to feel that come back when I first came here and I’m sure I can do it again. I look after myself well, I feel fit and I can’t wait to get the boots back on and go again.
“I’m 31 now and I still feel I’ve got a good few years left in me. I’m hoping for a few more good moments before I hang up my boots. It’s something I’ve done all my life and I don’t want to give it up just yet.”