Woodlock aided by power of positivity
IT could be March before James Woodlock can walk properly again.
By then, four months will have passed since the horrific double leg break which marred the 2009 Tipperary county senior hurling final and threw a promising career into immediate jeopardy.
October 18 should have been one of the greatest days of Woodlock's life as the 23-year-old midfielder captained Drom and Inch in the showpiece final against neighbours Thurles Sarsfields.
This was meant to be the day when the club finally landed the coveted Dan Breen Cup, after losing finals in 2005 and 2007.
But the occasion soured on so many levels as Sars cruised to a nine-point win and the abiding memory for many was the sight of Woodlock drifting in and out of consciousness as he was stretchered off deep into stoppage-time. He recalls the noise of the crack when his right leg shattered as something similar to snapping a plank of timber.
The innocuous collision with Tipperary team-mate Padraic Maher left Woodlock in a crumpled heap as players from both sides signalled frantically to the sideline for assistance.
"I remember Larry Corbett passed a ball backwards; I turned to get it, it dropped behind me.
"I was running back for it, my weight fully on my right leg as I moved left to run. Paudie came and ran into my leg with his right leg. I could hear the crack.
"When it broke, I had all my weight on it. My knee went one way but my ankle stayed in the ground and the leg twisted."
Woodlock removed his helmet and fell backwards as excruciating pain took hold of his body.
Team-mate Seamus Butler took his right leg and straightened it as stretcher-bearers rushed across to the Town End of Semple Stadium, where Woodlock lay screaming in agony.
Soon after, in the Kinane Stand medical room, Tipperary team doctor Peter Murchin spearheaded the operation to stabilise Woodlock's right leg.
Dr Kevin Delargy and Paul Ryan from Thurles Sarsfields assisted as Woodlock was worked on for an hour before the ambulance, delayed by some time, finally arrived from Nenagh to take him to Waterford Regional Hospital.
Woodlock was pumped with Morphine and Difene to help with the pain while he estimates that he sucked in four or five barrels of oxygen as
confusion, uncertainty and that pain he had never felt before, swirled through his brain.
Murchin's work made a bad situation better as Woodlock's broken tibia and fibula were realigned after being smashed out of place on impact with Maher's leg.
At one point, Woodlock's father, also James, came to check on his son's welfare and passed out with the shock.
"I'd go through pain but that day, I blacked out two or three times," Woodlock recalls. "I wouldn't go through it again, under any circumstances.
"I was operated on at 1.0 the next day, for four hours. I woke up at at 6.30; it took me ages to wake up, they had me dogged out of it so much."
After the operation, hospital staff began to fear that Woodlock might suffer from compartment syndrome.
So much work had been done on his leg that it began to swell due to the pressure on the muscles.
He recalls: "They thought they might have to operate again but they stuck in two needles, one into the calf and one into the front of the leg, to measure the pressure, but that relieved it."
Woodlock was monitored constantly that night but thankfully, further surgery was not required. He'd gone through enough.
"I don't have a cast," he explains. "I have a steel rod (which will remain in his body for another 10 months) holding things together.
"I broke my leg halfway between my ankle and knee in two places, right in the middle of the leg, the worst place you could do it.
"When they operated, they opened my knee, found the top of the tibia and drove down a nail through there, down through the marrow of the bone into the ankle.
"They inserted two screws from the ankle in through the bone to hold the nail and the same in the knee, so they opened the side of the knee as well. I have four cuts."
Woodlock left hospital on the Wednesday evening after the operation and for five weeks after that, he rarely left the couch.
"I went to bed at 2 or 3 every night and I was back down again at 6, 6.30 or 7, lying on the couch with my leg up to try to calm the pain. I didn't sleep for a month." The constant pain was eased as cards, including one from Thurles Sarsfields, flooded in along with other expressions of good wishes.
Sports people from other codes who had suffered similar injuries got in touch to offer support and advice.
Former Cork goalkeeper Ger Cunningham visited the house and Woodlock took a call from a member of the Irish rugby team as he found himself immersed in sheer good will.
The Woodlock family home quickly became a hostel of sorts; clubmates held a whip-round and bought him a flat-screen LCD TV before cousins arrived with a Nintendo Wii.
He read books, surfed the internet, went for spins in the car with anybody that would take him. Anything to pass the time before a sense of renewed independence returned with increased mobility.
He recalls with a smile: "There were 10 to 20 people in the house every day for five weeks. The place was packed. Everybody used to come and play the Wii, sit down for the chat, watch TV or eat Cadbury's Roses!"
He's been able to get around better for the last few weeks -- even venturing to the swimming pool for some light aqua jogging -- but a long road lies ahead.
Unable to eat properly in the weeks after the operation because of the painkillers, Woodlock lost two stone in weight, with muscle wastage also being a factor in that.
His fighting weight is normally between 12.75 and 13 stone, but Woodlock dipped below the 11-stone mark.
Moving around on crutches and returning to the pool has seen his appetite return but proper rehabilitation won't begin until March at the earliest.
He will be reliant then on highly-rated Tipperary team physio John Casey, who worked with Munster rugby in the past, and team trainer Cian O'Neill. "I just want my leg to come back perfect first, I'll worry about hurling after that."
The job (Woodlock is a Garda based in Kilkenny) is a concern too. He'll be out of action for another few months there and another source of frustration is the fact that he cannot break in horses around the family farm.
He reflects: "I'd have swapped my county final for my leg back. It was a bad day all round but that really put salt in the wound.
"The match was gone but to get a break like that, it puts you out of everything, makes you think, 'Is the game worth it?'
"But then there are people out there an awful lot worse than I am. Every day I get up, I'm on a pair of crutches, I'm able to get around. People out there are extremely sick and can't do things that I can."
Positivity. It's what James Woodlock needs as he prepares for the greatest battle of his life.
Don't bet against him.