Yow Yeh will 'go forward in life'
Broncos star Jharal Yow Yeh says he "wasn't going to cut it" in the NRL, retiring at age 24 after battling to overcome a chronic ankle injury.PT1M40S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-34yq4 620 349 March 18, 2014
Eight months after Jharal Yow Yeh experienced one of the worst injuries in the history of rugby league, somehow he was back in training at Red Hill.
Less than a year earlier, in round four of 2012 NRL season, the brilliant Broncos winger had smashed his ankle against South Sydney. The bone speared through his skin, saturating his sock with gushing blood.
He spent more than two months in hospital, with doctors trying to stave off infection and attempting to cover the wound with a graft from his thigh. It was, said acclaimed surgeon Peter Myers, as bad a sporting injury as he'd seen in three decades of practice.
The highs: Jharal Yow Yeh was one of the brightest young prospects in the NRL. Photo: Getty Images
Yet he was back, physically at least, slogging his way through painful rehabilitation as he attempted to resurrect a career that had seen him play for his nation and state before he turned 23.
Mentally, it was a different story. Andrew Croll, Brisbane's long-serving strength and conditioning expert now at North Queensland, decided it was time for a talk.
"He wasn't his normal self. I pulled him aside and asked what was bothering him. He broke down and said 'I don't think I'm going to get back'. I was pretty emotional but I think he needed to say it. Then, it was out there," Croll said.
Horror break: the moment life changed for Jharal Yow Yeh. Photo: Getty Images
"Once he had that realisation, we could move forward. But there was an element of hope. The good thing for him is he's left no stone unturned. He tried everything and held nothing back."
At just 24, Yow Yeh has ended his career as a professional athlete. Hope could only get him so far before his ankle, so badly damaged that doctors likened it more to a car crash injury, ended the discussion.
In doing so, he forfeits the life he had dreamed of and worked for since he could catch a football. Then there are the millions of dollars in future earnings now destined for the next bright young star.
But Yow Yeh seemed a content, philosophical young man as he relayed his decision to the media on Monday morning. Life outside of the football bubble, he said, he given him valuable perspective on life and sport.
"I’ve had the most fun I’ve had at this club for the past two years, when I’ve been injured. I’ve probably turned into someone a bit different. It’s a weird thing to know that an injury can do that to you," Yow Yeh said.
Sport seems to be full of inspiring comeback stories, tales of players who return from impossible scenarios to save the day. Yow Yeh didn't quite get there.
"Always in the back of your mind, everyone sort of knew. You always hear those stories about amazing comebacks. Everyone hoped he would be one of those stories. But deep down, you had that feeling. There were definitely some dark days," recalls Croll.
"Mentally, it was very challenging to stay up every day, come in and train with no real end in sight. In the early sessions, we were just learning to walk and run again."
So bad was the break that Croll believes it's better to think of his ankle issue as less of a sports injury and more of an ongoing disability. He will never forget when he first saw a sock full of blood, the shape of protruding bone, as he ran on to the field to assist the stricken player.
"It was horrific. It broke the skin, so when we got to him on the field, the blood was already soaking his sock. In hospital in Perth, the first thing was to stop the infection. He had seven or eight wash-outs," Croll said.
"Then the skin around it shrivelled, so when they went to cover it back it wouldn't reach. They took a slab of steak from his upper thigh and put it in his ankle.
"He had multiple surgeries after that but the function of the ankle was basically disabled. He can't even walk with a normal gait."
In that light, even pulling on a football boot for a Queensland Cup game last season - and pre-season trials this year - was akin to scaling Everest. The NRL remained a bridge too far and Yow Yeh could no longer hold back the tide.
"What he achieved required enormous character and resilience over two years. He's come out the other side and he seems content with his decision," Croll said. "To get where he was, to do what he did, was just phenomenal."
Yow Yeh spent last week informing his friends, colleagues, team-mates, coaches and family of his decision. But when he was asked who was the hardest person he had to tell, he replied: 'Myself.'
Yow Yeh was hardly a pity case at his retirement announcement. He was upbeat and has already made peace with the curveball lobbed in his direction.
He will remain associated with the Broncos in a yet-to-be decided role, as well as work in the community with the Deadly Choices program. And he will return to study at university.
"For me, it was jut a typical game, what I do every day. Everything happens for a reason and I think this has happened for a reason. I’ll go forward in life and I think I’ll go forward somewhere else."