Knee club graduate Chapman out to prove third time's the charm

Brisbane Roar midfielder and Matilda, Amy 'Chappy' Chapman, takes to the pitch this weekend after her third knee reconstruction, proving there is life AND football after an ACL. She talks with Fiona Crawford ahead of her much-anticipated return.

We all bemoan the inexplicably high incidence of knee injuries in women—and I wholly include myself in that. But I also feel like we are – or I am – starting to sound like a broken record.

Knee injury prevention is enormously important. A future where we eradicate knee injuries altogether is absolutely something we aspire to. But I’m starting to think it’s just as important to acknowledge a knee injury isn’t the end of the world (even if it initially feels like that). It’s a shitty, season-ending injury, no doubt, but it doesn’t have to be a career-ending one.

Brisbane Roar midfielder Amy ‘Chappy’ Chapman graduates from Kneeclub this weekend, when she returns to the pitch after her third anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction. (Kneeclub is an informal support group for players who’ve sustained knee injuries – her co-members include Sarah Walsh, Caitlin Munoz, and Lauren Colthorpe.) Chapman is something of a lifetime Kneeclub member, with the club being a little Hotel California-ish – you can never quite leave.

And, while the focus this weekend will, and has been, on her three-times-rebuilt knees, the focus should really be not that she’s had the injuries, but that she’s come back from them.

Fewer girls participate in sport than boys, with girls’ participation dropping off steeply in teenage years due to such factors as feeling self-conscious and a lack of viable career opportunities. Girls are also more likely to do a knee in their late teenage years, a cruelly timed co-factor that sees many women not return to sport.

But what I’m interested in, and inspired by, is that players such as Chapman haven’t let knee injuries get the better of them. They’ve treated them as annoying speed bumps, but ones that are only temporary.

Have there been moments when she thought her knees would end her career? “Yeah, definitely,” she tells me. “There’s quite a few girls who’ve had at least three (reconstructions), so I guess it’s all about timing. If I had done three in three years, I would certainly have thought about things a lot differently. But because I’ve had this eight-year gap, you sort of know that you can happily recover from knees.”

Chapman, in particular, hasn’t let the knee injuries hamper her game.

“I think it’s good for me to know how well I can play after an ACL, because I’ve had two of them,” the 26-year-old says.

“I mean, before I was even 20-years-old I’d had two. And my international career just started, even after I’d had two. So I know you can come back the same player, if not better.

“The moment I did (the most recent ACL tear), I knew that I’d be wanting to come back just as hard. You know, you should play while you can.”

And her perspective isn’t that she’s had three knee constructions. There were two, and now there’s been one, but they’re segmented in her mind and her career.

“It’s funny that people always bring up that I’ve had three” she says. “Because it’s been eight years it doesn’t feel like that to me at all. I’ve only had one in the last eight years. So I guess it doesn’t sound like that to me.

“I thought I was well and truly done with those days. But it’s a part of the game, so the prior ACL experience does help in some ways, but it probably adds to the frustration equally.”

A lot’s also changed in that time.

“I was a teenager when I had my other ones, so I think in terms of mental state I’ve grown up,” Chapman adds.

“Football was all I did back then. Now, obviously, I work full time and also, so it’s a balance as well.”

Chapman works as a medical device specialist and regularly scrubs in on surgeries. She’s witnessed a couple of knee surgeries, but it’s arguably a little close to home. Her portfolio is maxillofacial and neurological.

“You can see why it hurts afterwards,” she says of the knee surgeries she’s seen. “But they’re very, very clever. Surgeons are brilliant.”

While six used to be the magic number of months before returning to the pitch, rehabilitation is now anywhere from nine to 12 months. While she was back at six months for the last two, including attending a World Cup on her return from one, Chapman’s been more conservative this time.

“I had a bit more time to stop and work on things,” she says. “I’ll be nine months this week, so waiting for the nine-month mark to play. And I know that (Socceroo) Robbie Kruse did his five weeks…six weeks after mine, and he’s been playing for months.”

He even had an assist last week.

“So there you go,” Chapman says to that news. ‘So it’s good to see other people…I mean, you hear about them every day, so…”

“…it’s not the big deal it used to be?” I offer.

‘Yeah,’ she says, nodding.

She also says the surgery this time around has been different. She had hamstring grafts for her previous two, but a patella graft for this one.

“The comparisons don’t really go across, I don’t know, 10 years. Because you forget the pain and you remember the joy of playing. That’s how it happens, really.”

Chapman is pragmatic about her knee injury experiences.

“It makes you definitely appreciate and be a bit more grateful for the opportunities that you have,” she says.

“And you work harder and you’re a bit more disciplined because you’ve had it taken away from you.’

Nor does she hugely fear re-injury.

“I know that I can still play at this level and I’m enjoying it,” she says.

“Obviously there’s World Cups coming up and, you know, championships to win with the W-League. So you’re always pretty determined. And I’ve had eight strong years with my knees. I think it worries other people more than it worries us as footballers.”

So, while there’ll undoubtedly be mention of Chapman’s three reconstructions when she returns to the pitch, it’s arguably more important to shift the conversation on to the fact that she’s back and hasn’t let them slow her down.

“I think people, once they see you play and see how confident you are, it’s going to make them forget (you’ve been) injured.”

So what of this weekend’s return and her future plans?

“I’m only thinking one week at a time,” she says. “Just see how I can bring something different to the game, because we haven’t started that well.

“I’m only playing 20 minutes this weekend, so then we’ll build up from there, we’ll build up to full games.”

Characteristic of her determination to get back out there as she counted down to the nine-month mark, she laughs: “I wanted it to be last weekend, but they were, like, ‘easy tiger’.”

Brisbane Roar v Western Sydney Wanderers 

(Hyundai A-League double-header)

Sunday 12 October 2014

Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane

Local kick-off: 1pm (2pm AEDT)