By Drew Beveridge
While the rest of the surf lifesaving community puts their feet up for the off-season, Sunshine Beach competitor Sarah Perkins is just getting back on hers.
The 16-year-old is beginning a long road to recovery after suffering a season-ending injury to her left foot at the Queensland state championships in March.
Perkins’ campaign to win the under-17 ironwoman race at the Australian championships was booted when she fell in a pothole while running into the water in the board rescue final.
“My foot went forward over my toes and I took a while to get back up,” Perkins said.
Remarkably Perkins finished the race to claim fifth in the final.
“I waded with one foot and was careful of kicking,” she said.
“When I finished I had to be carried up the beach.”
Perkins said she “knew straight away” that her national dreams had come to an end.
The fall left Perkins with a Lisfranc injury and she has been on crutches since having surgery to repair bone and ligament damage.
It is the same injury that sidelined Nutri-Grain Ironwomen Harriet Brown and Jordan Mercer for most of the season, with Mercer making her comeback at the Australian Championships last month to claim bronze in the surf ski race.
Perkins shares a similar recovery path as the injured professionals, with her foot in a moon boot for three months before the removal of screws.
Mercer is now more than six months post-surgery on her right foot and said her recovery has proven to be both a mental and physical challenge.
“I’ve had to approach it with a really positive attitude because I’ve learnt from past injuries that you can’t go back and play the ‘coulda, woulda, shoulda’ game,” she said.
“For me my sport is really an outlet, that was taken away from me and it’s definitely a difficult process trying to keep a positive mindset.
“I’ve found a lot of sanity in surrounding myself with a strong support group.”
She said focusing her energy towards her goal of adding a Molokai surf ski title to her list of international achievements has become a daily motivator.
“It’s reminded me not to rush recovery and helped me overcome the mental negativity of the things I haven’t been able to do – like running,” she said.
Perkins’ mother Sue said she knows here daughter has the determination to take this setback in her stride.
“She hasn’t been injured before, but had health issues last winter,” Mrs Perkins said.
“Last season she had chronic fatigue symptoms and missed a lot of winter training, so she really started the season on the back foot.
“She came through and did really well in Oceans 38 and Oceans 6 races…she’s very resilient in the way she just keeps kicking on.”
While Perkins will not be hitting the water till after her wounds heal, she has been maintaining fitness in order to kickstart her recovery.
“I had two weeks where I couldn’t do anything, but got right back in to gym after that,” she said.
Although she has a lot of work to do before she can put her foot on the start line, she is already looking forward to the upcoming season.
Perkins watched on while her sister, Maroochydore athlete Jamie Perkins, dominated this year’s Youth Australian Championships with a gold-medal winning effort in the under-14 ironwoman and board races.
It was a performance that has left the athlete feeling inspired, motivated and annoyed because she “couldn’t get out there and do it.”
She said the experience has fired her up for next season.
Perkins’ focus is to take out the Australian under-17 ironwoman next year to one-up her performance from the 2018 championships where she placed second behind Alexandra Headland’s Tayla Halliday.