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  1. #1
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    Webb's road back from a broken neck

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    I hope you're studying because you'll never be playing footy again."


    That's what a surgeon told Lukas Webb last July. Four days earlier he'd been playing for Footscray, trying to stake a claim for a return to the AFL. Then at the start of the second quarter in a game away to the Casey Demons, things went badly wrong.

    In his four years at the Western Bulldogs, Webb had barely been injured until a few weeks before the Casey game. On a dirty night for the Dogs in Adelaide, Webb broke his thumb early in a game against Port Adelaide, but played out the match. Then in the dying stages of the match he copped a knock to the back of his head.

    "It was the hardest I've ever been hit in the head. I was a bit dazed," Webb tellsThe Sunday Age.

    But he didn't think too much of it. The thumb needed surgery, whereas his head seemed like a non-issue. The small break was actually something of a relief given how he'd lived life on the fringe of the Bulldogs' AFL side.

    "I realised for four years I'd been in this cycle, just a rollercoaster really. You're in and out and you're in and out. It takes its toll a little bit. You're in this sort of tunnel," Webb says.

    "That was the first time I sort of stood back and was like, 'Woah'. I didn't have to play. So the pressure of having to play AFL footy was sort of off me.

    "It's just so vicious, the whole cycle of footy. But that's why we play, because it's good fun as well. I ended up just taking step a back and seeing footy from a different perspective."

    Still, he got back and lined up in that game against Casey. The fateful incident was reasonably innocuous.

    "I got pushed in the back, and I got crunched again, my chin to my chest sort of motion, in a tackle," Webb recalls.

    He was on the grass for a little bit, but managed to run off the ground, experiencing a similar pain in his chest to the one he'd felt against the Power.

    "It was sore, but I could run, it was fine," he says.

    Webb might have put his hand up for selection the following week if not for club doctor Gary Zimmerman suggesting that the midfielder have the latest knock checked out. So that Monday, the day after the Casey game, Webb had scans.

    By that Tuesday he and girlfriend Karli were being told that Webb would need to be in a neck brace for at least three months, if not six. Webb and Karli looked each other and started laughing. Surely the doctor wasn't serious. After all, while Webb's neck was a bit sore, he could walk fine.

    But there was serious underlying damage. He'd chipped a bit of his C6 bone, his C7 had snapped in half, his T1 was dented, and the ligaments in between those bones were ruptured. This wasn't your average footy injury.

    Then, two days later, Webb, his mum Julianne, and Karli, saw another surgeon for a second opinion. That's when Webb was bluntly told he wouldn't be playing again.

    "We ended up deciding on no surgery, and that I might be able to play again. But it was looking unlikely. By the Thursday, I was more worried about [quality of] life. Football was secondary," Webb says.

    "I didn't believe it at the start. I was walking. I told [the surgeon] I could get up and do a backflip now, I feel fine.

    "Mum took it pretty heavy, and Karli, because I'd played footy my whole life. It was like, 'Hang on, I just played Sunday and I'm walking fine, and now it's Thursday and you're telling me I can't play'.

    I'm not one to make up scenarios too much in my head. I wasn't thinking, 'Oh, I might never play again'. I was just thinking, 'I want to do what I can do now'. And I couldn't do a whole lot."

    Had Webb not been an athlete, he probably would have had surgery. But going under the knife would have meant having some of the bones fused, which would have made it too dangerous to play again.

    Coach Luke Beveridge opted not to delve into great detail about Webb's injury when asked about it that week. There was a sense of secrecy surrounding the issue.

    "I don't think any AFL player had had this injury before, so they weren't sure to rule me out for however long," Webb says.

    "It was all a bit murky in a sense."

    With their son's future unclear, Webb's parents Julianne and Murray encouraged Lukas to relax and digest his situation before jumping to any conclusions. He had excellent support from sisters Rhomi and Jordy as well as manager Matt Bain, while Webb's teammates and the local community from his hometown of Lakes Entrance threw their arms around him Ė figuratively, of course.

    He spent a couple of weeks away from the club to start, adapting to his new life in a neck brace. He could take it off to shower and was allowed to remove it in bed, but concerned about jolting in his sleep decided against the latter.

    He couldn't drive, head-checks would have been impossible, so Karli became something of his personal Uber driver. A carpentry course he was doing away from the club had to be put on the backburner.

    Pretty much all he could do was walk. So a couple of times a day for three months, Webb would stroll the streets of his neighbourhood in South Melbourne.

    "There would have been a few locals in South Melbourne that would have seen me in the neck brace for six months and would have been like, 'This guy's surely after an insurance claim or something'."

    He'd get some stares in Melbourne, too, but that was nothing compared to the looks he got in a post-season trip to Japan with retired teammate Shane Biggs.

    "It was a bit hotter than I would have liked," Webb says of Japan.

    "If I had have known how hot it was going to be, I probably wouldn't have gone. But I'm very glad that I went."

    Itís such a bad thing to do, to break your neck, but in saying that Iíve got a lot out of it.

    Biggs suspected some Japanese people suspected that Webb was merely making a fashion statement, with Webb wearing scarves on top of the brace, almost to the point of colour co-ordination.

    Webb also went to Europe with Karli and some mates, before returning for pre-season. By late in the year he was able to run some laps of the Whitten Oval, still wearing the brace, which he accepts would have been quite a sight. He had lost about six or seven kilograms, and needed to regain strength.

    But the neck was OK. He was going to be able to get back. About a month to go before he could remove the brace, Webb hit the gym, focusing on leg weights. It allowed him to turn his plight into a positive, building strength that wasn't doable during the season. He is doing better running time than before, and feels a lot stronger.

    "It's such a bad thing to do, to break your neck, but in saying that I've got a lot out of it," he says.

    By round one of the VFL season, Webb was ready to return.

    "I was almost nervous to get back, because the first half of 2018 was such a rollercoaster because I didn't want that again," he says.

    "I didn't know footy could make you feel that bad," Webb adds, referring to the low of walking off the ground after a poor showing in that Port game last year, which he said was the lowest he'd ever felt in his life.

    However, the joy of running out with his teammates and celebrating wins helped overcome that angst. A VFL premiership in 2016 was proof of just how happy football could make him.

    There was also the matter of how his neck would stand up.

    "I was nervous, very nervous, before that first game. Just more because I hadn't done a lot of full-on contact," Webb says.

    But after withstanding a couple of early hits, Webb's confidence in his body was restored. Against Collingwood last Friday, Webb had 29 disposals and kicked two goals.

    Footscray have a VFL bye this week, but if he continues that type of form, another taste of senior footy beckons.

    He's tried to work on his forward play, but has no grand plans other than to play solid footy. His six months in the brace have also meant that at times his shoulders turn before his head, although that is happening less often.

    Webb is still only 23, and has played just 24 games, but had previously spoken publicly about the loss of two close mates to suicide, and an incident when he was 13 where he and a friend saved the life of a drowning man, but were unable to rescue another. As such he's been part of campaigns to help raise awareness both for mental health, and water safety.

    So Webb has some perspective about a broken neck. "I know a lot of people that have gone through a lot worse than me," he says.
    Premierships: AFL 1954, 2016 VFA - 1898,99,1900, 1908, 1913, 1919-20, 1923-24, VFL: 2014, 2016 . Champions of Victoria 1924. AFLW - 2018.

  2. Thanks jeemak, Go_Dogs, Hotdog60, bulldogtragic, josie, Smads57, Eastdog thanked for this post
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  3. #2
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    Re: Webb's road back from a broken neck

    Poor guy. Thank God it wasn't any worse and it didn't impact his spinal cord. It's a credit to him to get back on the field playing footy again but I don't know if I could do it after such a big scare.

    But now that he's back playing I hope he can force his way back in the seniors and play a role for us. That will benefit himself first and foremost from a mental point of view, and secondly it can benefit the team. He has neat skills which is something we need desperately, especially entering f50.
    They've done studies you know, 60% of the time, it works every time!
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  5. #3
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    Re: Webb's road back from a broken neck

    I thought this young man was going to be a 200 gamer when i watched him in his first year. He looked to have composure, bravery and skill.
    Has struggled since then and I don't know why. Maybe this experience resets him mentally and sees his belief rise again.

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  7. #4
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    Re: Webb's road back from a broken neck

    This article was the only positive bulldog story out of the weekend footy

  8. #5
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    Re: Webb's road back from a broken neck

    I really hope he makes it. He had neat skills, but seemed one of those guys that never got continuity and would be dropped after one poor game.

    I shudder hearing about his injury and hope the months of dedication pay off.
    www.bulldogtragician.com A blog about being a lifelong fan of the Dogs and our quixotic attempt to replicate 1954. AND WE DID
    Author of "The Mighty West: the Bulldogs journey from daydream believers to premiership heroes"
    Twitter @bulldogstragic

  9. #6
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    Re: Webb's road back from a broken neck

    He has looked a different player this year at VFL level...hoping he can be a surprise packet for us in 2019 at AFL level at some stage.
    Liam Picken is still my favourite player......

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  11. #7
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    Re: Webb's road back from a broken neck

    Quote Originally Posted by Smads57 View Post
    He has looked a different player this year at VFL level...hoping he can be a surprise packet for us in 2019 at AFL level at some stage.
    What role has he played?
    Premierships: AFL 1954, 2016 VFA - 1898,99,1900, 1908, 1913, 1919-20, 1923-24, VFL: 2014, 2016 . Champions of Victoria 1924. AFLW - 2018.

  12. #8
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    Re: Webb's road back from a broken neck

    Quote Originally Posted by bornadog View Post
    What role has he played?
    He has played mainly midfield resting forward. Not dissimilar to his role at VFL level in the past.
    Liam Picken is still my favourite player......

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  14. #9
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    Re: Webb's road back from a broken neck

    Quote Originally Posted by bornadog View Post
    What role has he played?
    Has now played 3 good games back and must be getting close to a recall to our senior team. Both Webb and Dale have ability and skill capable of lifting our current form with some of our senior players fortunate to be getting regular games.

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