It’s been the story of the week in the Canadian Football League.
Nathan Rourke is back after being out of the B.C. Lions lineup since injuring his right foot in a game against the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Regina on Aug. 19. After the subsequent surgery, most thought Rourke was done for the year but he’s defied the odds and will play in the Lions regular season finale in Winnipeg this weekend.
Rourke’s return to action against the Blue Bombers on Friday night will be an appetizer for Lions fans who hope a three-course meal will follow with the entrees being the Western Semi-Final, the Western Final and the Grey Cup game.
For Rourke, it’s been a long road back with plenty of ups and downs. “I remained optimistic but that didn’t make any it easier. There were definitely times where I didn’t even want to think about football,” said the 24-year-old native of Victoria.
Going through rehab is a tough time both physically and mentally. As most athletes would attest, the physical work is gruelling and you’re usually isolated doing it – which causes a feeling of disconnect from the team. For Rourke, it was the small victories on such days that kept him motivated.
“I just wanted to make sure it felt like a productive day. It’s tough early on when you don’t see any progress but it gets easier when you start seeing that the incision wound is closing up a little bit more and you’re able to do something without pain. Those little victories were fun. Sometimes when you don’t see that on a day-to-day basis it can be quite challenging when you’re isolated from the team and not at the facility,” said Rourke, who despite missing half a season is still the Lions’ nominee for Most Outstanding Player and Most Outstanding Canadian awards.
According to Rourke, the lowest point during the recovery process occurred during the last week of September. “We had a setback at one point where the doctors weren’t happy with the incision wound closing and they were worried about it getting infected, so I had to stay home instead of going to practice the week of the Ottawa game,” he explained.
At that point, Rourke had to prioritize recovery over football. He missed practices and meetings – and if you know anything about Rourke – you know how much that pained him as he’s a preparation junkie. But in typical Rourke fashion, he made sure he was up to speed on opponents who the Lions might face when he returned.
The turning point in the rehab process according to Rourke was when the incision started to close and the chances of infection were reduced.
“That allowed me to do some more things and I really started to make strides in my rehab. I started walking around and I eventually got out of the walking boot around six weeks after the surgery. I started to enjoy things a little more,” said Rourke.
Rourke feels confident that the mental part of the game won’t be an issue for him when he returns but, like any athlete returning from a serious injury, it’s how he will respond physically in game conditions.
Most doctors will give you a blunt response when you ask them about getting back to 100% after surgery. The standard reply is “you’ll never be back to 100%” and when that story was relayed to Rourke, he got a good chuckle.
“Doctors told me that as well but I don’t believe them for a second. It’s hard to give a percentage of where I’m at but that’s why we are going through this week just to feel where that is. It’s certainly not 100% but I feel pretty good considering,” stated Rourke.
Rourke said he’s “strangely calm” when describing on how he’s feeling prior to the Winnipeg game. It’s the polar opposite for Lions fans who are hoping a healthy Rourke can lead them to a post-season run.
Veteran B.C. sports personality Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich writes twice weekly for Black Press Media. And check out his weekly podcast every Monday at Today in B.C. or your local Black Press Media website.