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HomeSPORTSI was a machine’: England’s Abby Dow on her World Cup recovery

I was a machine’: England’s Abby Dow on her World Cup recovery

I was a machine’: England’s Abby Dow on her World Cup recovery

The wing is targeting an appearance in England’s opening Rugby World Cup game less than six months after breaking a leg

Abby Dow can still recall every painful detail. It was 9 April and she had broken her right leg in the early stages of England’s game against Wales at Kingsholm. Lying on a stretcher in the tunnel, with her family and friends around her, she thought her World Cup dream was over. “You always hear the horror stories of that person who was on form and then all of a sudden gets injured and misses out. We’ve been building for this event for five years and ‘It’s me’ was going through my head.”

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Even after being transferred to London and placed in the care of a specialist surgeon she still feared the worst, with the World Cup due to kick off on 8 October. “I remember crying in my hospital bed as people broke the news to me that it was extremely unlikely. The surgery involved quite a big operation and the surgeon can’t say: ‘You’re going to make it.’”

It has required a huge effort effort, therefore, for the 24-year-old Dow not just to be back on her feet but in New Zealand as an active member of the Red Roses squad. At one point she was utilising five different rehabilitation machines, including a bone healing machine and a device to keep her joints moving. “It was ridiculous,” she says now. “I basically was a machine.”

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Driving to physio appointments was also impossible, requiring a roster of friends and family members to act as taxi drivers. “They’ve been dragged through the whole situation with me. Because it was my right leg you obviously had the classic situation of: ‘Oh, I can’t drive. Could someone drop me off?’ Rehab isn’t just about yourself, it’s about all the people around you.”

The pacy Wasps wing also credits the Red Roses’ head physio Emily Ross – “If there was a witchdoctor it would be Emily” – for getting her back ready to play inside six months. “Initially I was told nine months. Then we tried to squeeze it down to six. Now we’re trying to squeeze it down a bit more. For the first two or three months the million dollar question was: ‘Am I still on track to make it?’ From it being unlikely to very likely and then being selected has made it a very fortunate transition but it’s not been good for my stress levels.

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“The only other guy who has had a break like me has been Harlequins’ Will Evans and he got back in eight or nine months. It was really nice to talk to him and understand what this injury was going to be like. I’ve never had a surgery before so to have that support has helped a lot.”

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All those tough months of intensive rehab and gym work, however, have paid off. Featuring in the opening game against Fiji might be a push but her coaches have been persuaded to take a calculated risk. A flying Dow, as regularly demonstrated in her 24 Tests for England, poses a major threat to any defence if she can hit the ground running.

“There is a slight plan in pencil that I could be available for the first game. I’m trying to transition out of the strength and conditioning part into actually growing as a rugby player, not just growing a leg. But this is a performance environment. I also need to perform.”

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Dow, who has been studying mechanical engineering at Imperial College, London, compares the feeling to a looming set of exams – “That was the last time I was under this sort of stress and pressure” – but also yearns for England to tap into the same feelgood female sports vibe enjoyed by the Lionesses in the summer. “It’s not so much we need to win it because they did it, it’s more ‘Let’s do it for women’s sport,’” stresses Dow. “Let’s prove that when you give us time and you give us money we can thrive. Hopefully we can go and achieve the same sorts of things they have.” In all kinds of ways she is a winner already.

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