YOU’D BE forgiven if a month ago, you’d never heard the name Hayley Raso. The 28-year-old has been a fixture in the Australian women’s national team squad for years and has played for some of the world’s biggest clubs, but unless you’re a Matildas diehard, you probably weren’t familiar with Raso, or her incredible story. That was before her talismanic goal-scoring output guided the Matildas all the way to the semi-finals of the 2023 Women’s World Cup, establishing herself as a household name and as a hero of Australian sport. Seriously, if you still haven’t heard of Raso despite the mass hysteria surrounding the Matildas’ World Cup run, you must be living under a rock.
Raso netted twice against Canada, put the result beyond doubt with a late strike against Denmark, and has been a pivotal figure in the Matildas’ story tale run. But just a few years ago, she suffered a traumatic injury that forced her to ponder whether she’d ever walk, let alone play sport again.
In 2018, while playing for the Portland Thorns, Raso broke three vertebrae after an on-field collision. “I couldn’t do anything at that moment, I was just in so much pain, I couldn’t move my body,” she told the ABC. For a less determined athlete, it could have spelled an early end.
Luckily for Matildas fans, Raso is no ordinary athlete. She spent the next two weeks in hospital before entering a rehabilitation centre, where she had to essentially learn to walk again. “It was hard. I couldn’t even move or roll over in bed let alone stand up,” she told the ABC. “I was firstly in a wheelchair then I went to using a walking frame and I was just taking really small steps trying to get around the hospital.”
In an incredible feat considering the extent of her injury, Raso returned to the Matildas’ just six months later. Not satisfied with simply taking to the field, she scored just minutes into her return. Four years on, Raso is one of the most talked about athletes in the country and has secured a move to Spanish giants Real Madrid.
Raso isn’t the first athlete to make a comeback despite exceedingly difficult circumstances and she won’t be the last. The human spirit has a way of overcoming setbacks, no matter the cost. So, to celebrate Raso’s triumph, let’s take a look back on eight other athletes’ comebacks that prove taking a step back can open a path forward.
In August of 2021 at the summer Olympics in Tokyo, Simone Biles decided to prioritise her mental health over her athletic performance. She spent the next two years jumping into self-care rather than onto balance beams, as she struggled to get her head in the right space to return to competition. Now, the 26-year-old, who is widely considered the greatest female gymnast of all time (having garnered over 25 World Championship medals), has completed her comeback, blowing away her competition at the 2023 US Classic—proving that taking stock of your mental health can see glorious results.
Biles’ decision to withdraw from most of her events at the Tokyo Games was not made lightly. When it comes to being touted as the GOAT, high pressure situations come with the job, but when the expectations begin to disrupt your mental health—it’s time to take a break. Biles understands this better than most, and after withdrawing from most events in Tokyo, she’s spent the last two years building her mental strength through therapy.
In her first meet since the Tokyo Games, the 26-year-old superstar proved why her name is spoken with unmatched reverence, with an all-around score of 59.100 that was five points clear of second place. The superstar gymnast hadn’t even begun training until late last year, neither had she committed to the US Classic until late June — but on Saturday she proved she hadn’t missed a beat in her time away.
All eyes will now turn to Biles’ preparation for the next Olympics, with the 2024 Paris Games less than a year away. The US championships take place at the end of this month, with the world championships coming in October. After that, pending qualification and mental health, Biles will make her Olympic return—giving her the opportunity to cement her place as the greatest to ever do it.
As the oldest member of the fabled ‘Big 3’ (alongside Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic), Roger Federer felt Father Times cruel embrace creeping up on him sooner than his legendary counterparts. In 2016, Federer suffered a series of knee and back injuries that forced him to take time away from tennis. For most athletes in a similarly gruelling sport, extensive injuries while approaching the age of 40 would be a career death sentence. But Federer is not like most athletes.
In 2017, the Swiss Maestro made his return to the ATP tour. At the Australian Open, Federer turned back the clock and won his first grand slam title in five years at the ripe old age of 36, in spite of being the tournaments 17th seed. Federer would continue his renaissance period at Wimbledon in the same year, where he won a record extending eighth title. In 2018, he defended his Australian Open crown and won his 20th grand slam. Federer’s career revival landed him the title of being the oldest man to ever be ranked world number one–and proved that age really is just a number.
Basketball fans don’t agree on many things, but most wouldn’t argue against the fact that there isn’t a comeback more immortalised in sports ethos than that of Michael Jordan. Just to be clear, we’re talking about MJ’s first comeback, where shortly after a championship three-peat, Jordan retired, only to return two years later and achieve another three-peat. Jordan’s second comeback, while still impressive at more than 40 years of age, wasn’t anything to write home about.
A few short months after his Chicago Bulls finally captured an elusive three-peat, the first in almost 30 years, Jordan was burnt out, facing gambling debts and mulling retirement. Then his father was murdered. Jordan, at the height of his powers, declared he had lost his love for basketball, and stepped away from the game.
Two years later, in a testament to his reputation as a showman above all else, Jordan announced his return to the NBA, the only way he knew how, in a widely released statement that simply read “I’m back.” Jordan went on to lead the Bulls to a second three-peat, and the rest is history.
Tennis sensation Ash Barty made headlines last year when the Australian announced her sudden retirement at only 26 years of age, fresh off of her Australian Open triumph. But that wasn’t the first time Barty called it quits.
Way back in 2014, when she was but a lowly challenger ranked outside of the top 200, Barty announced she would be taking time away from tennis to pursue, of all things, cricket. She later said the impact of being on tour from a young age influenced her decision, “it was too much too quickly for me as I’ve been travelling from quite a young age… I wanted to experience life as a normal teenaged girl and have some normal experiences,” she said. Who can blame her?
Barty earned a professional contract with the Brisbane Heat for the 2015-16 WBBL season, but thankfully for Aussie tennis fans, cricket wasn’t where she was meant to be. Barty was convinced to return to tennis by fellow player Casey Dellacqua, and went on to become a world number one, winning three grand slams before eventually bowing out in a far more fitting place–on top.
Tiger Woods is a man who needs no introduction, as the Americans reputation on the fairway, and propensity for scandal off of it, precede him. Woods is one of the most successful golfers of all time, with 15 major championships, 14 of which came between 1997 and 2008. Woods’ final major win stands out as a serious outlier in his trophy case, but it may have been the greatest achievement of his sparkling career.
While Woods may be hesitant to explain the glaring gap in his resume to a future employer, given the numerous scandal’s he found himself in between his last and second last major wins, Woods most recent victory might be his most impressive. Facing extensive injuries and the crushing weight of the term ‘has-been’ that’s often associated with athletes pushing on well past their prime, Woods won his 15th major at the 2019 Masters tournament, silencing critics and proving once and for all that while physical strength may fade with age, magic doesn’t.
To call Anna Meares an icon of cycling would be an understatement. The Aussie sprinter is the most decorated female track cyclist of all time, but a horrific injury midway through her career almost threatened to derail her quest for the one accolade that had previously eluded her: An Olympic gold medal in the track sprint.
Just months out from the 2008 Olympics, Meares crashed during an event while riding at 65km/h. She broke her neck, dislocated her shoulder, and tore multiple ligaments, which could have spelled the end for an athlete with less willpower. Meares battled back to the top and at the 2012 Olympics, she finally won gold in the women’s sprint. You’ll be hard pressed to find someone more deserving.
Muhammad Ali’s storied legacy speaks for itself, but the Louisville Lip’s career was almost cut short after he refused to be drafted into the US Army to serve during the Vietnam war. Ali was convicted of draft evasion and sentenced to five years in prison. Although he was never actually locked up, Ali was denied a boxing license in every state and had his passport cancelled to prevent him from fighting overseas.
It took more than three years for his conviction to be overturned, which took a considerable chunk out of his prime years, but Ali eventually returned to reclaim his world heavyweight champion title. In the end, nothing could stop Ali’s hunger to be a champion.
In 2021, Christian Eriksen was one of the most talented footballers in the world, a technically gifted force on the field, and a hero in his home country of Denmark. But at the 2020 European championships, Eriksen suddenly collapsed, and sporting talent doesn’t count for much in life threatening situations.
Eriksen had suffered a cardiac arrest, an incident that could have left him on the sidelines permanently. Instead, Eriksen bounced back and returned to international football less than a year later, scoring two minutes after coming off the bench in his homecoming outing for Denmark. Eriksen’s comeback also earned him a contract with Manchester United that pays him more than $15 million AUD per year–talk about cashing in on a comeback!