Wayde van Niekerk: 'I can’t blame anyone else for my injury'
Olympic champion Wayde van Niekerk was full of doubt for the better part of the two years as he travelled on the lonely road of recovery after a knee ligament injury threatened to end his career.
Now fully fit and having taken part in a few 100m and 200m races in Bloemfontein before the lockdown, the 27-year-old is happy to learn his body still has speed and strength.
“There were definitely nerves and questions,” he told the World Athletics website.
“I decided to put all those aside and see what my body wants to do. It showed me I still have that speed and I definitely still have the strength I had before the injury. That gave me a massive boost.
“Doubt is part of the process. There were doubts even before I was injured. I’m very critical and very hard on myself, so that creates some doubt and questions.”
In 2017, the former world champion sustained medial and lateral tears in his meniscus and tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) during a celebrity touch rugby match, and he has taken full responsibility.
“I can’t blame anyone else for my injury,” he said.
“I’m the one who made the decision to play a rugby game, the one who put myself in that position. I’m a professional athlete and the decision I take is on me, but what that [brought was] a bit of guilt and wishing I did not do what I did.
“But it was my reality. It happened and putting blame on it wasn’t going to get me to come back stronger.”
Athletes deal with the disappointment of severe injury in different ways, and it didn’t take Van Niekerk long to reach the final stage of acceptance.
“Knowing myself and spending time with my mentors made it easier to snap out of the dark places when the negatives were creeping up on me,” he said.
“It helped me seek a positive or a peace within this chaos.
“Mentally I’ve been practising to get myself more confident so when things aren’t going my way, I stand firm in who I am and what I believe in. That’s what has driven me forward. Knowing my quality and what I can achieve has made it so much easier to work harder than ever before to come back.”
“With an injury like an ACL, there are so many setbacks where you need to take a step back and make sure you’re making responsible decisions that won’t hurt you or cause more harm.
“I had to be very cautious to find the line between pushing my boundaries and not overdoing it. We are slowly but surely started getting the hang of it.”