On the ball

Posted on 15 September 2015

Injuries and accidents can happen to anyone. But, as Springbok rugby star Siya Kolisi discovered, it helps to have company on your road to recovery.

You’re doing odd jobs around the house, changing a light bulb, when you fall off the ladder and sprain your arm. You’re driving home from work when another car jumps a red light, crashes into yours, and you break a leg. It happens so quickly – but it happens. Accidents and injuries are, sadly, a part of life. Just ask anyone who has landed up with their arm in a sling or their leg in a cast.

And they’re a major part of life if you’re a top athlete – especially in a contact sport such as rugby.

As Siya Kolisi knows all too well.

The setback
Last September, while playing for Western Province against the Lions in a Currie Cup match, the talented loose forward became the meat in an unpleasant rugby-tackle sandwich. His legs buckled, his medial collateral ligament (MCL) tore in both knees, and he was stretchered off the field. His season was over. ‘I was cleaned from both sides,’ he recalls. ‘So my legs did the splits. I had to be in a brace, on both legs, for six weeks.’

The injury was bad, but the timing was even worse. Siya had had a sensational debut season in 2012, and had followed that up with an even better run of form in 2013. That June, on the day before his 22nd birthday, Siya made his international debut for the Springboks, producing a Man of the Match performance against Scotland in Nelspruit. (Ironically, Siya’s Springbok debut came as a result of an injury: he replaced Arno Botha, who’d suffered ruptured ligaments in his left knee.)

Siya struggled to replicate that form in 2014 and, after a disappointing Super Rugby season, was hoping to regain some confidence and consistency in the Currie Cup competition. But the double knee injury put an end to that. ‘There was still the end-of-year tour with the Springboks to come, so I was trying to get my form back,’ he says. ‘Overall, last year was not a great year for me on the field.’

The get-back
Off the field, though, Siya had a brilliant year – and that’s what helped him through his recovery. ‘It was a great year for me outside of rugby,’ he says. ‘My son was born, and I was reunited with my brother and sister. I took the positives out of that, and got my life together.’

Eight years ago, Siya had lost contact with his half-siblings (an eight-year-old half-sister and a 13-year-old half-brother) when they were taken into care by social services. Siya was raised by his paternal grandmother for the majority of his childhood, and grew up in boarding school.

‘I’d always wanted a close family,’ he says. ‘It was something I didn’t have, staying in hostels. My family was my friends, my schoolmates, my teammates. When I found my brother and sister, I took them in and tried to give them a better life. It helps me a lot, too… They always support me, whether I’ve played well or not. It’s unconditional love.’

The comeback
Siya needed that support during his long recovery. ‘Luckily, I didn’t need surgery,’ he says, ‘so after the casts came off I just did rehab work.’ While he went easy on his knees at the start, doing basic work with elastic bands and stability balls, Siya used his time off to build his upper body ahead of the 2015 Super Rugby season. It paid off: in 2015, he played in all 16 games. And with the Rugby World Cup around the corner, his confidence is back.

‘I don’t think about injuries when I play,’ he says. ‘You can’t; you just have to play your normal game. When you start worrying about getting injured, it affects the way you run, the way you tackle… everything. You can’t doubt yourself: that destroys your confidence.’

Best of all, his biggest fans are waiting at home. ‘Every day after training, I know that when I leave the High Performance Centre I can switch off, take my mind off rugby and just focus on myself and my family,’ he says. ‘Before, it felt like rugby was my whole life. But the older you get, the more you learn.’

FACT FILE
Siyamthanda ‘Siya’ Kolisi
BORN 16 June 1991 (age 24)
TEAMS Western Province, Stormers
POSITION Loose forward
SPRINGBOK CAPS 10
SPRINGBOK DEBUT vs Scotland, 15 June 2013
SUPER RUGBY APPEARANCES 60
SUPER RUGBY DEBUT vs Hurricanes,25 February 2012
* Stats correct as of August 2015

Need to know
If you’re an active sportsperson, especially in a contact sport such as rugby, chances are you’ll pick up a knee injury at some point. Here’s a look at the parts of your knee that are most likely to suffer a sprain, strain or tear:

ANTERIOR CRUCIATE LIGAMENT (ACL)
Cruciate ligaments control your knees’ backwards and forwards motion. The front ligament, or ACL, runs diagonally across the centre of the knee. It provides rotational stability and keeps your tibia (shin bone) from sliding out in front of your femur (thigh bone).

MEDIAL COLLATERAL LIGAMENT (MCL)
Collateral ligaments run down the sides of your knees, controlling sideways motion. Your MCL, the one on the inside, connects your femur to your tibia. Since it helps brace your knee against unusual movement, it’s the ligament you’re most likely to injure.

MENISCUS
Each knee has two menisci – rubbery, C-shaped discs that help to cushion the knee joint, keeping you steady by balancing your weight across the knees. Think of these as the shock absorbers between your femur and your tibia.

The information provided in this article was correct at the time of publishing. At Mediclinic we endeavour to provide our patients and readers with accurate and reliable information, which is why we continually review and update our content. However, due to the dynamic nature of clinical information and medicine, some information may from time to time become outdated prior to revision.

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