‘My leg just would have snapped’: Tahlia' AFLW draft hope
When the club physio pressed on Tahlia Hickie's ankle, she just about jumped off the table.
The AFL Women's ruck hopeful had been grinding away during 2018 pre-season training with a persistent pain in her leg.
But she could never have imagined that further investigation of that pain would ultimately save her from serious complications.
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"It was a really long process because nobody really knew what it was or how to deal with it," Hickie said this week.
"It kind of got bounced around to different people before we found out what it was, which took even longer.
"I had been running on it, and I was like 'this doesn't feel right'. My ankle was feeling sore. I went and saw our club physio and she kind of pushed on it and I jumped.
"It wasn't meant to feel like that. She sent me for an X-ray thinking it might have been a stress fracture or something."
The X-ray was clear for stress fractures, but something foreign was evident.
There were MRIs, CT scans - "every kind of scan, you name it", Hickie said.
It went beyond the physiotherapist, who passed the now 18-year-old onto her GP before it was on to a sports doctor and a surgeon before a diagnosis of a bone cyst.
"It was pretty scary," Hickie said of the wait to determine that it was benign.
"It would have started really small - they said it was something I could have been born with, or it could have just appeared. It would have just kept growing.
"If I wasn't an athlete, I wouldn't have found it and one day my leg just would have snapped.
"It ate away at my bone - I had a hollow bone filled with blood. When they told us what it was, it was a bit scary because we didn't know if it was benign or not - they couldn't tell us. It was just a really long process for everything."
The Coorparoo player - who had taken up Australian Rules following stints of netball, Oztag, gymnastics, swimming and diving - had her AFLW dream put on hold and her hopes of being drafted last year dashed as a slow recovery loomed on the sidelines.
Because the bone had filled with blood, she underwent surgery to insert donor bone before two weeks in bed and a lengthy journey back to doing anything more than walking in a moon boot.
"I had to wait to get a bone that matched me and then they kind of make it into a putty," she explained.
"It's a bit like play dough. It was stronger than it was before, but it wasn't strong enough to play sport on, so I had to wait for my actual bone to grow back through.
"I think they said (it came from) an old lady, but I don't know.
"(Football saved my leg) pretty much, yeah. Otherwise they wouldn't have found it and my leg just would have snapped one day."
The Queenslander travelled to Melbourne this week for the AFLW draft combine, and finished fourth for the standing vertical jump and equal fifth in the 2km time trial.
It marks an incredible return to draft contention for the tall - who is also studying a double-degree in criminology and psychology - who was also felled with an injury to her medial collateral ligament last year.
She was supported through that injury by the Brisbane Lions as an academy member, and she admits she would love to land there on October 22.
"(It's special to be back have a shot again), especially because last year was my draft year," Hickie said.
"I missed out on all that stuff. Now I'm getting a second chance. It makes it better."