Top pair: Travis Varcoe (left) with indigenous All Stars coach Michael O'Loughlin. Photo: Getty Images
TRAVIS Varcoe doesn't need much reminding that he missed almost all of last season. He remembers it each time he walks on sand, or any sort of uneven surface, and can feel the long, flexible screw inside his right foot move and bend.
''It's not painful any more. There's no pain at all, but there's not quite as much give as there used to be, and it's like a little reminder,'' he said. ''There's something in there that's not meant to be there. It just makes you think: 'oh, that's right,' That happened'.''
That happened a little over a year ago, now. Varcoe was ruled out of the Geelong team for three months when he was first diagnosed with a stress fracture, then for another eight weeks when his foot snapped again at the end of a long training run in the middle of the year.
It was his last 50-metre sprint of the day, and he was due to play again that weekend. He wasn't happy.
''The second it happened, I knew I'd done it again,'' he said. ''It was a weird feeling, but I could feel my foot just collapse, or relax, then give me this warm, tingly sort of feeling. The timing couldn't have been worse, because I was ready to slot straight back in. It shattered me a bit.''
The feeling didn't last long. Varcoe had been injured before, and even injured before becoming a Geelong player.
When he was 17 he was told he may never play again, after a more complicated foot injury. Three months didn't seem long, neither did another two. Varcoe wanted to get back into the senior team, badly, and after both setbacks was sure he still had time.
He felt inspired, training alongside Daniel Menzel and Josh Cowan while in rehab, because they knew less than him about what they were missing out on.
''They came in every day and said: 'OK, what have you got for me?' They were doing the best they could, every day, and it got me thinking: geez, I can't complain if they're not. It had a pretty big impact on me.''
Varcoe's year was long, frustrating and draining. But now the wait is almost over. He did not play for the indigenous All Stars against Richmond on Saturday night but should be back in blue and white for most, if not all, the pre-season competition.
He'll keep the flexible screw in his foot for as long as he needs it to be there, partly for some security.
''Everything's fine in there now, but you still have those few questions,'' he said. ''I just need to get through the first two or three weeks, I reckon, and then I'll be fine. I think I've done my time. Hopefully my injury spell is over for a while now.''
He learnt lots about what he wanted: to get off the couch, having been stuck there for 10 days post-surgery; to get up one morning of each weekend, not knowing what two hours later that day would bring him and his team; to train; ''to do weights and kick balls around and have that daily banter with the boys. And even just to run. Actually no … I've never really liked the running.''
He also found out what he didn't want. Varcoe made it back for one senior game, if you can even call it that. Halfway through the first quarter he tackled a Western Bulldogs player, and felt his opponent's body fall into his foot, damaging some ligaments. His year started and ended in round 22, desperately close to the finals series that, as it turned out, he wasn't all that devastated to miss out on.
''I really wanted to play. I really did, and I did everything I could. But after that match I lost that feeling of waking up, looking up at the ceiling and thinking, 'do I have to roll this out again'?'' he said. ''I just thought, 'you know what, I'm disappointed, but how can I help the boys?' It made me watch the other players, and look at who was playing my spot, and try and help them with it. I didn't want them being sad for me. I wanted someone to take my spot, so that I could be fighting now to get it back.''