- Hayley Raso returned to international football last week after a serious back injury
- Australia and Portland Thorns star aiming to make Women’s World Cup bow in June
- “I broke down and was asking, ‘Will I be able to walk again?’ ”
Few players will have taken a tougher road to the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™ than Hayley Raso.
The pint-sized Australia winger has long been renowned for her on-field character and durability. But that resolve was pushed to the limit last year in a life-changing split-second. Representing NWSL powerhouse Portland Thorns, Raso crashed to the turf after a collision that left her barely able to move.
“I was in an immense amount of pain,” said Raso, taking up the story with FIFA.com. “At the time I didn’t really know what was wrong, or what even had happened to me [on the field], I just knew something was really wrong with me.”
Through torturous pain, Raso’s mind raced. “I was freaking out in the first hour,” she continued. “From the moment of the injury until being at the hospital, there was a big period of unknown and what does this mean. I honestly think I have a pretty high pain threshold, but I was thinking ‘how can pain be this bad.’
“Being sent for a scan and finding out I had broken three of my vertebrae was tough. I remember it like it was yesterday.
“When you hear of someone breaking their back you think, ‘that’s it, they can’t walk or live a normal life’, so for me I broke down and was asking, ‘will I be able to walk again?’ ”
Watching the game on a tiny computer screen back at the family home on the Gold Coast was Hayley's mother Renaye, who managed to get on a flight to Washington almost immediately, where she spent the next month aiding her daughter through a gruelling rehabilitation.
“I didn’t understand initially how hard and tough recovery would be,” said Raso, who admits she still battles with mental demons.
“People don’t understand there is the physical side, which obviously was really tough with literally everything from getting dressed, showering and even just rolling over in bed. But there is also the mental side of it as well, and it was hard for me to imagine getting back on the field and getting hit.
“I battle with it every day. I think we take it [our health] for granted that we go about everyday life and don’t realise how quickly it can be taken away.”
After being a non-playing squad member for Australia at Canada 2015, ‘Ribbons’ as she is affectionately known for her trademark hair adornment, was driven throughout an arduous rehabilitation by the thought of taking the field at this year’s football showpiece.
After returning to club action in January, Raso returned to the international stage last week and made a stunning impact. The 24-year-old netted a superbly taken goal just three minutes into her comeback, following a seven-month absence from the green and gold. It mirrored her return to club football which produced a goal after 18 minutes.
“I’m really excited for the opportunity, and it is a real goal of mine to play at the World Cup,” Raso said. “After everything I went through, it would be very exciting to be at the top of my football at a World Cup, when eight months ago I couldn’t move, I couldn’t walk.”
Raso, who has put paramedical studies on hold for football, is hugely popular with team-mates and fans alike. So much so that the jet-heeled Raso received the Portland Thorns’ fans’ award in 2017. It is particularly significant given the club from USA’s Pacific northwest can lay claim to being the best supported women’s football club.
“It’s incredible to experience that crowd and the professionalism of the team. It’s amazing to go out in front of 21,000, and to have them chant your name is something else.
“Portland is such a soccer city; you do get recognised on the street. It is another world there.”
And it is a love which is mutual.