This Article was first published on behalf of Frankston Foot Clinic
Trent Croad played 222 AFL senior games. Made All Australian in 2005. Fremantle leading goal kicker and in 2008 became a premiership player with the Hawthorn Football Club. Yet during the 2nd quarter of the grand final, Trent suffered a severe left foot injury that forced him to go off. Sixteen months later he retired from AFL football- unable to get his foot conditioned to perform at such a high level again. Frankston Foot Clinic was fortunate enough to be able to sit down with Trent and discuss the injury including rehabilitation and the specific trauma it went through.
Sam Davies: Thanks Trent. The reason we wanted to chat to you today was in regards to the injury you sustained in the 2008 grand final. I recall before the game started that Dr Peter Larkins as well as other media/medical personalities stated they were keeping a close eye on you due to your foot.
Were you having any pain in the lead-up? What was the worry there?
Trent Croad: If I can remember correctly I had given it a little tweak during the Qualifying Final against the Western Bulldogs.I can remember being in the goal square with Will Minson, the bulldogs ruckman. I was having a big wrestle with him, went up on my big toe and went down very quickly. It felt like a sprain so considering we had the game covered, I went off as a bit of a precaution, as we had the grand final coming up. I went in and had scans to check it all out and it was all clear. I mean it was pretty sore but there was no structural damage. No ligament damage. No skeletal worries. I think I went back and instead of training all three nights, I trained one or two of them and then was all cleared to play.
SD: So was there any concerns from the medical staff leading into the game? Obviously if the scans were alright, you were pretty good to go?
TC: Well that’s the assumption isn’t it? Mentally I was alright. Nothing was going to stop me playing. You could’ve held a shotgun to my head and I still would have played. But as far as I’m concerned all precautions were taken, and if you are declared fit to play, you’re declared to play.
SD: The injury was sustained in the 2nd quarter over in the pocket of the Punt Road end. How was it feeling during the warm-up and 1st quarter when you were playing on Mooney? Was it feeling ok?
TC: I was aware of it, but couldn’t feel too much. When I look back at past footage I pride myself on being explosive off the mark. Campbell Brown and I pride ourselves on being the fastest over 40 metres. Clarko (Alistair Clarkson) plays what he calls his “Brutus Boys” on the last lines that can accelerate very quickly. Looking back at the footage I thought I could go with Cam Mooney for speed, but to see myself accelerate fully off the mark, I thought I was a bit slow in that regard.But still, it’s funny looking back. There was no structural damage, there was slight pain but nothing more than that. Which is just the life of an AFL player, playing every week.
SD: Some newspaper reports stated you fractured your left foot. Others state you dislocated it. Can you tell us what happened?
TC: I ended up having what’s called a navicular-cuneiform-cuboid fusion. So basically what’s happened, I’ve completely smashed those bones in the midfoot, which is a big release point just down from the big toe. And at the same time, I’ve broken my little toe, the toe next to that as well as the middle toe. So those three toes were completely shattered. But the exact operation by Mark Blackney was called a navicular-cunieform-cuboid fusion. So basically I have half of Bunnings in my foot there.
SD: Were you able to partake in the post Grand Final celebrations or were you straight off to hospital?
TC: If you look back at the footage of the game, my foot was just blowing up by the second. The best thing I did (and being out of the game now, I can admit this), was go down to the rooms after I had just ran on my broken foot and grab a handful of those pethidine sticks. I started sucking on those as much as I could, I was that keen to get back out there. It’s funny, you see people who break their legs suck on one of those sticks and they come out waving. But it was when that wore off that I really felt the pain. It was a pain I’ve never felt before. It (the injury) has been likened to the Crusty Demon motorcycle guys with the research the senior physios and sports people at Hawthorn did. If you can imagine when they accelerate and go up to do a double backflip, when they come down from this massive height it would be like a hard solid structure lying under the midfoot, and landing on that without a motorcycle boot on. There was no other sport we could compare my injury to. It’s a rare injury but we are starting to see them. I’m sure at your clinic you’d be able to handle them very well.
SD: So when you said that it was pain you’ve never experienced before, what did it feel like?
TC: Basically when I first did it, I was running out towards the boundary and the foot felt like it had dislocated. When I say dislocated everyone thinks of an arm being out of place, yet with a foot you as a podiatrist would know with treatment you can bend it, you can manipulate it. It is a very vigorous, very tough structure.
It was like someone had grabbed my toes with one hand and grabbed my midfoot with the other and just twisted it, like doing a “Chinese burn” on an arm. It rolled, twisted but then stayed fixed in that position. So I reached down and try and knock the midfoot back into place. The worst thing was that it wasn’t moving at all. It looked like a cramped foot, but bony.
Then Joel Selwood came into view about 20 metres away and I thought that I was gone. I just knew I was gone. It still gives me goosebumps thinking about it now. You just get this feeling as a player when you know you’ve done something very serious. So I knew I had to go. I ran, and every step I took it basically felt like I was walking on baked beans but something was crackling every time. Almost like biting into chicken bones. There were noises going off from my foot but it was all soft. It was just excruciating.
SD: And then you went in to bump Joel Selwood. Did you feel like you got him?
TC: It’s all a blur. Afterwards I got told I did. All I saw was a Cat’s jumper in the vicinity and thought “you’ll do.”
SD: How long were you in hospital for?
TC: Oh god, I think they (the surgeons) had to wait two weeks before they could even operate due to the swelling. Mark Blackney did the operation and I didn’t end up walking for 4-5 months. I lost all my calf definition. Lost everything.
Don’t forget we were in premiership mode. We were in peak condition. We (Hawthorn) were doing outrageous things with weights. Power to weight ratios. Especially the power backmen. We were doing serious weights but with speed. I’m not talking about trying to be body-builders. I’m talking about being able to transfer a specific weight very very fast. We were trained that way by being a part of a program for 4-5 years. We got there but the sheer force that was going through our bodies was why these sort of injuries happen. So basically recovering from that injury my whole body was ready to go on from the grand final but my foot didn’t work. So it was an incredibly frustrating time.
SD: At what stage did you realise that the 2009 season may be a long shot?
TC: It’s easy answering now in hindsight, almost 10 years later. I was 28 years old playing full back with Hodgey (Luke Hodge) playing in front of me and Brent Guerra there. My job was to control the big power forward. It was kind of nice halving a contest with those guys at your feet. I had hope (of getting back) and so I just kept trying and trying but then I had to go back in for another operation.
The rehabilitation was so intense. As I said earlier, no one really knew what was going on or how to treat it. We tried building arches up with orthotics from podiatrists but they hurt as it was pushing straight through the midfoot. I also tried trampoline work and then started running over 80 metres but then I’d have another set-back. Remember, I also had the broken toes so needed pins in them.
Jumping forward I did try to come back after retiring with De La Salle football club. And what was quite evident, and in your field you can probably answer it better, the work you have to do on a crutch during rehab for people with foot injuries is an area that I believe is not talked about. In the sense that if I have serious foot injury I am told to stay off it, get given a boot and that sort of thing. And then I start my rehab and the number 1 thing that I believe isn’t spoken about is the other foot. So I came out (for De La Salle) and in the first 5 minutes I snapped my right Achilles. Now I may have been unconditioned and all those sort of things, but I genuinely believe that it was due to the amount of work it had been doing for my left foot.
So if you are an extreme athlete people don’t realise that when they finally come back from a serious foot injury you start thinking “yes, I can walk now. There’s no pain,” but the stress that the other foot does- it almost becomes a sitting duck.
SD: When did it become apparent that AFL senior football may be unrealistic?
TC: Probably when I had the 2nd set-back with it. With the trauma to the foot and loss of muscle, I mean we were squatting 200kgs at a time, due to losing all that muscle strength and trying to rebuild I started to develop spurs in my ankles. So I had to go back into surgery and have those removed because they were causing pain as well. So having such a traumatic injury all these other little things start popping up.
Then I have to start playing on Jonathan Brown standing 15 metres out from goal with no one else around me, or running with Riewoldt or whoever else it may be, these little things make it unrealistic considering the demand of the role within the team. So it became the inevitable in the end.
SD: Now that you are retired and are heading up a landscaping business through retirement villages, are you in any long-term pain?
TC: Yeah so I’m doing landscape gardening through age-care at the moment but it’s good to have six young punks to tell what to do. Trying to run it like a football club.
Look, my legs and quads were always good. My hamstrings and upper body were always strong. But my biggest problem are my hands and feet. So I’ve had wrist reconstructions, scaphoid removal and fusions. Both thumbs broken, wrist problems, achilles and what I did with my feet. So my pain is at the ends of my body. The biggest problem I have, even as I’m now only 35, is arthritis.
I believe it is arthritis. It’s a slow release pain. My back is okay but my feet get really stiff. Obviously when you finish from AFL footy you don’t have the body maintenance that you used to have at the club. Instead of five-a-day yoga I have to go out and get a real job.
SD: So you have all this pain and stiffness now but correct me if I am wrong, didn’t you use to hold the record for vertical leap at AFL draft camp back in 1996?
TC: Yeah I did, that’s right. I was shattered when that record was broken. All my mates were texting me and reminding me when that got beaten. If you look at the results, my brother Cameron wasn’t too far behind me as well.
SD: So what keeps you busy these days? I see you are the director of Croad Gardens.
TC: Yeah so I’ve started a landscape gardening business company that specialises in aged-care. Commercial projects, client to client, and also looking after seven retirement village grounds. It keeps me very busy. Controlling the staff is that hardest part.
Part Two Will Be Release Later In The Month
FootNotes Publishing Contributor