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An 18th birthday that was unforgettable: Q&A with Canberra netball player Zoe Haseler

On her 18th birthday, Zoe Haseler was gearing up for what she thought would be just another game of Netball. Little did she know that her special day would end in a hospital bed after tearing her right ACL, meniscus and MCL.

Zoe Haseler getting through her recovery to get back to the sport she loves.

Haseler went through 11 months of intense rehabilitation before she was cleared to start full training again. But only three days later, life dealt Zoe another heavy blow when she tore her opposite ACL which required emergency surgery 3 days later.

In 2016, Zoe represented her country in the Australian U19’s side, whilst also playing for the ACT U21’s and scoring herself a scholarship with the ACT Academy of Sports (ACTAS).

She has had four knee reconstructive surgeries since October 2016, but was determined to make it to the National Netball League. Unfortunately, due to on-going problems with her knee’s, Zoe was forced to make the heart-breaking decision of giving up on Netball.

I sat down with her to discuss her journey through the ups and downs of high performance sport.

Q: What started your love for netball?

A: I have played netball since I was 8 and I’ve always had that sort of engine and spark for the girls and the whole culture around netball. There is no better feeling than playing with your seven best girl friends that you train with relentlessly through many years. As soon as you step over that line, there is no better feeling than being able to implement something that you have tried so hard for. To hopefully one day make a career out of it, I think that was always the spark.

Q: Could you talk me through the experience of how you tore your first ACL?

A: I was at my peak performance and was playing the best netball I’ve ever produced. It was actually my birthday, and it was the last quarter of the game for the Canberra Darters. I was sprinting down to the far pocket and just as I stepped out a girl sort of relentlessly came and took my body from the inside. My right leg was stationery and the rest of my body twisted. As soon as I did it I felt the knee shift and the bones move. I had no clue about ACL’s or knee injuries at the time, but I knew this was bad. It was feeling of pure disappointment and I sort of just felt like I let myself down because I knew how hard I worked. I think I was also incredibly angry at the time. I was angry with the circumstances. With it being the last few seconds of the game and the opposition being ahead by a large margin, I was just angry at the fact that it happened to me. Why has this happened to me? The emotion didn’t hit me until I got in the car and was driving home with my whole family by my side. That’s when the tears started to flow.

Q: How did the second knee injury occur?

A: It makes me physically sick thinking about. The way it happened was something that no one should have to go through and unfortunately it happened to me. I had done 11 months of rehab and I actually got cleared by the Melbourne return of sport test. I had not quite finished the right knee rehab, but I definitely done everything possible that I needed to do to get to this stage.

Zoe After her second knee reconstruction in July 2017

On the Monday I was super stoked and absolutely over the moon and proud of myself for getting this far. On the Thursday at the end of the session. One of the girls I trained with at the ACT academy of sport, wanted to do one last rep and of course me being me, I wanted to help her out. I was caught trying to catch the ball that came at me at an awkward angle and I had to twist back to get it. I landed on my left leg with a lot of pressure and immediately felt that shift of bone again. There was a sharp pain that shot down my leg for about a millisecond and the next thing I knew I was on the ground.

I sort of flashed back to the same situation that happened with my other knee. The feelings and emotions were all too familiar. I was having emergency surgery three days later, so I didn’t have time in this situation to reflect and come to terms as to what had happened. The emotions came out in the 6 weeks after when I was lying in bed in absolute agony. This was definitely the lowest point of my life and something that I never wish upon anyone.

Q: How do you try stay positive in a time like this?

A: I found it best to reach out to people that have gone through the same thing I have and give some of my knowledge. It made me feel good that I can provide some form of support and inspiration for young netball players or a young athlete coming up. Me helping someone also helps me as an athlete because I know the hardship and I know how demoralising it is for the athlete to try and rebuild their body.

Q: What was the moment that you thought that this was the end for your Netball career?

A: I had no idea as to what the future held for me. I knew the process ahead was going to be challenging after my second knee reconstruction but I wanted to take a positive measure. I had done this before and I could do it again. All I could think was you’re going to fix yourself… again. I think it wasn’t until the third operation on the left knee that I just knew that I had to come to terms that I needed to make a decision. The love for netball was never was diminished. I always had that passion, and that spark to play netball. I loved any chance I had to get my hands on the ball.

I felt absolutely terrible sitting at training on the sideline. Just not being able to do it. But I worked one-on-one with my coach until I was ready to be in a situation where I could give 100%. That wasn’t until about 5 months down the track where I started running that I could actually go to training and try and catch a ball. But even then it was hard getting asked to step out drills because I wasn’t ready. I think it was those types of moments that kind of helped me make my decision.

Zoe Playing for the ACT under 19’s side

Q: What finally made you want to give away Netball?

A: People were constantly asking me ‘why do you want to keep doing this?  Your body is broken’. I think it was the mentality of wanting to prove those people that I could play netball with two broken knee’s. But I think I was the last person on this earth to realise that this wasn’t going to work out. When I made the decision that I wasn’t going to play netball, everyone was okay with that.



Q: Do you feel there are things to be grateful for after going through this experience?

A: It’s allowed me to understand my body a whole lot better. I know it’s not the most ideal way of finding this, but I definitely know how my body responds to nutrition and mental challenges, so I suppose the awareness that I have within my whole structure is definitely heightened.

Also my family and coaches that have supported me through thick and thin. I have needed those people in my life that continued to believe in me when I didn’t believe in myself. It’s tough when you’re at an all-time low and you don’t want to get out of bed in the morning. I’m very grateful to have gone through this experience and I’ve become a better person as a whole for it.

Q: I understand you started up Instagram page that has tracked you rehabilitation process. What has been the feedback from that social media presence?  

I’ve had absolute strangers contact me saying that they have gone through a similar process. I had one person message me privately saying that I guided them through the last 12 weeks of their recovery and that I have provided that really inspirational support for them. I think that is one of the most rewarding things you can receive. Your personal approach of life and dedication has given someone else the inspiration to get out of bed. It’s been very special getting those types messages.


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Q: You’ve now taken up rowing and what has the transition been like moving from something you follow religiously in Netball to something completely new and out of your comfort zone?

A: The transfer was a decision 5 months in the making. For me to change, it took for my surgeon to write a report that said I cannot play Netball anymore. I needed to find something that didn’t affect my knees and kept my high performance brain ticking over.

Turning to Rowing has been great. I have loved the challenge of learning a new sport. It has been a very scary process for me mainly because I don’t the know the measures of success, but that also excites me. I got in contact with the New South Wales Institute of Sport and took up the opportunity to try out with the Sydney University Boat Club which sparked my interest. It has made the transition from Netball that much easier. I haven’t missed netball at all because I’ve had this new experience and I’ve had a coach that actually wants me to be there. He knows that I can be successful one day and having that support from those coaches definitely keeps me wanting to pursue Rrwing.

Swapping the netball for an oar. Zoe in her new high performance environment

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