Shae Sloane heard the all-too-familiar crack and pop before she fell to the turf, but this time she did not feel any pain.
The Melbourne defender knew she’d done something to her “good knee”, she just didn’t know how bad.
Sloane, the sister of Adelaide captain Rory, had not yet grasped that the pain and the sadness and the anger were still to come.
But any hope she had of escaping a third torn ACL in three consecutive AFLW seasons disappeared when she had a scan.
“I felt no pain, but I knew I’d done something,” the 28-year-old primary school teacher recalled this week.
“I was in that phase of being really excited about getting back after two years of rehab and ready to get out there. Then it was just shock, devastation.”
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Shae Sloane is helped from the field after one of her ACL injuries. Picture: AAP ImagesSource:AAP
She collapsed during a regulation training drill with Melbourne’s AFLW side in mid-February.
For most, the dream of playing AFLW would have been left in ruins after such adversity.
But Sloane has revealed she’s not quite ready to give away the game she loves.
Sloane – the former captain of Australian volleyball team, the Volleyroos – was recruited by the Demons as a rookie for the 2019 season.
She made her AFLW debut on February 3 in Round 1, but played less than a half before she tore the ACL in her right knee.
Ten months later she tore the same ACL and missed the entire 2020 season.
Then, on February 13, 2021, only two weeks before she was due to rejoin the main squad, Sloane was in the middle of a “really basic, game-style training drill” when she changed direction and her left knee – “my good knee” – collapsed.
Scans confirmed it: a torn ACL, as well as tears in both meniscuses.
Shae Sloane knows exactly what an ACL feels like. Picture: Michael KleinSource:News Corp Australia
For the next week, Sloane stayed home allowing herself to feel every emotion that arrived: anger, disbelief, devastation.
“I had a lot of tears, ate a lot of food … I stayed on the couch,” she said.
She also spent a lot of time questioning why her knees had failed her when she’d gone through her volleyball career without injury?
Which is why Sloane supports industry efforts to investigate the incidence of ACL injuries among women footballers.
According to the 2020 AFLW Injury Report, last year ACL injuries were the highest injury-type in the AFLW, with 7.47 new injuries per 1000 player hours.
This sits well above the incidence in the men’s competition (0.70 ACL injuries per 1000 players hours).
Shae Sloane never had any issues with her knees when playing volleyball.Source:Supplied
Last year, the AFL announced a study into whether the menstrual cycle was connected to ACL injuries (results pending), while earlier this month the Australian Physiotherapy Association announced it had partnered with the AFLW, LaTrobe University and Medibank to look at injury rates in women’s community football throughout Victoria.
While Sloane understands that many look at her situation and say: “Give the game away”, she’s not ready to make that call.
She said she was delaying surgery to weigh up her options before committing to the long, lonely grind of recovering from a knee reconstruction.
“The last two years have been really challenging … at the moment I’m (not) ready to have that surgery and spend a whole other year starting again on what I’ve done over the last two,” she said.
“Talking to a lot of people, I’m realising that surgery is not the only option.”
Sloane’s heartened by the story of Crows defender, Marijana Rajcic, who’s also suffered multiple torn ACLs and had three knee reconstructions (all suffered while playing elite soccer, before playing AFLW from 2018).
Shae and Rory Sloane together before a game. Picture: Michael KleinSource:News Corp Australia
Last year, after hurting her knee at training in 2020, Rajcic had scans that revealed she has no ACL in her twice-reconstructed left knee.
Doctors suspect she ruptured the tendon five years ago, and has since played her entire 27-game AFLW career – including the 2019 premiership – without an ACL; her diligent gym work building enough strength and stability allowing her to play.
“Don’t get wrong, my knee gives me grief, all the time … but it all makes sense now, because after my knee goes through a headache of a footy game with lots of turning and change of direction, it swells up a little because it’s healing,” Rajcic said.
“I don’t have an ACL, so everything around it is overcompensating and protecting it.”
For Sloane, despite the three torn ACLs, there are no regrets, because the adversity has helped shape her resilience, and being around a footy club has brought immense joy.
“I haven’t been able to play, but each year I’ve been involved in some way from a coaching perspective and been able to watch these girls do what we all love doing.”
And for now, she’s simply excited to watch her teammates in action again ladder-leaders Fremantle in Perth on Sunday as they journey on towards the AFLW finals.
Originally published asAlarming AFLW mystery: Why have star’s knees failed her?
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