It’s not quite hell and back, but former Wallaby Stephen Hoiles has endured quite the journey trying to revive his Super Rugby career after an Achilles tendon injury.
Hoiles has been to Sweden and back.
“My father and I flew over. We had about 11 flights in 11 days,” he told AAP.
“It was like a massive trek to get there and then I was back out of there about five days later.”
But it’s mission accomplished after the 32-year-old globetrotted on a wing and a prayer hoping last-ditch surgery on his troublesome Achilles could get him back on the paddock for the first time since 2010.
The gamble paid off, with Hoiles making two appearances for Randwick in Sydney club rugby last August to earn a training contract with the NSW Waratahs.
Painstaking research, doctors and former coaches pointed him to Dr Hakan Alfredson, who Hoiles hailed as “if not the best, then one of the best tendon surgeons in the world”.
“He just deals with chronic cases or people who are a little bit left of centre.”
Hoiles was definitely that, if not at his wits’ end after being frustrated by an injury that started as a “stiff foot” from double training loads with the Brumbies and the Wallabies midway through 2010.
Clean-up surgery at the end of that season was meant to sideline the classy back-rower for 12 weeks.
But he’s been in the wilderness since.
Apart from the emotional toll its had on Hoiles, who couldn’t even chase his two young children on the beach without pulling up sore, the former Brumbies captain has also lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost earnings.
“I had to leave Canberra because of it because I had another year left on my contract and Jake White wasn’t really happy coming into the side with the captain potentially not going to play for the whole year,” he said.
After two unsuccessful six-month rehab programs at the AIS, Hoiles emailed Dr Alfredson last January and was on a flight two weeks later for surgery.
“I was either going to go over there and he’d tell me that it’s unrepairable and that I’m done, or he’d be able to fix it,” Hoiles said.
“So either way, it was going to be closure. If it was no good, I could accept that. I’d have given it every shot.”
Dr Alfredson asked Hoiles to run up and down on the spot to aggravate the injury before an ultrasound identified a loose bone fragment in his foot.
“Then he split me down the back of my heel, opened me up and cleaned it up while I was awake,” Hoiles said.
“It was probably a two-hour operation but, after pretty much two-and-a-half, three years of utter frustration because of it, it’s all sorted now.”
Hoiles has completed 10 weeks of intense off-season training with the Waratahs without needing Achilles treatment even once.
His only focus now is on the Waratahs’ February 1 trial against the Melbourne Rebels in Albury.
“There’s been no guarantees, no promises,” he said.
“I don’t know where it’s going to lead me footy-wise. I’ve got to work pretty hard to try and get an opportunity to play here because there’s a lot of guys in front of me.
“But I still believe that the years I missed may be a bit of a blessing for me.
“I still feel like I’ve got a couple of good years in me at least.”