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Inspirational Bonser returns stronger than everFriday, May 24, 2019 - 7:10 AM - by Chris Pike

HER attitude to having both knees reconstructed robbing her of playing in AFLW with the Fremantle Dockers was so inspirational that Emily Bonser has no doubt she's now a better person and footballer ahead of her debut with Claremont this Saturday in WAFLW.

Bonser's life couldn’t have been going any better at the start of 2016. She was drafted to Fremantle and was about to make her AFLW debut while her studies to being a physical education teacher were going well, as was her work as a personal trainer.

So to say the news that she would require a reconstruction to both knees and that her right and left anterior cruciate ligaments had ruptured hit her like a ton of bricks.

All of a sudden she could no longer run out onto the field, she couldn’t get up and about to teach and her personal training had to be put on hold.

Once the shock had passed of what Bonser was facing, she attacked it with the most inspirational attitude possible and realised that if this was the worst thing to happen to her, then in the bigger picture of life, she was still relatively lucky.

That's why she knew she couldn’t afford to rush the recovery and instead focused on doing everything in her rehabilitation the best she could while also developing her life in other areas so she was able to continue to grow.

The reward for that is now coming in spades. Bonser made her return to football late last season at Swan Districts and has now joined Claremont for the inaugural WAFLW season and will likely make her debut this Saturday morning against Subiaco at Claremont Oval.

On top of that, Bonser is now a teaching graduate and working full-time, and both in terms of life and football she couldn’t be in a better place.

"I think everything happens for a reason and I used to think that clichés and sayings were a bit stupid before bad things happened to me, but I realised that things do happen for a reason," Bonser said.

"My knees definitely slowed me down in a good way and I think it pulled me back and made me realise how lucky I am. It gave me a bit of perspective in life but also opened some really good things for me.

"Because of that, I was able to get into coaching and fix up when I was going on prac for my teaching. And because I couldn't get out there to run around with the kids, I had to focus on my instructional skills and it made me get better at other skills because I couldn’t rely on what I could do physically. 

"I'm really happy with my life at the moment, I'm in an amazing job which I love and at an amazing football club. Everything's going really well and I'm very happy."

While Bonser has missed Claremont's opening two games of the WAFLW season, the vice-captain expects to be available to play this Saturday against Subiaco and she couldn’t be happier with how the move to her new club is going, as hard as it was to leave Swan Districts after winning three premierships.

"I'm hoping to make my return this week coming hopefully, if I get picked in the team of course," Bonser said.

"I'm very excited to get back out there and the competition has been condensed so the talent is spread through fewer teams this year. I'm very excited to get out there and have a feel for the new competition, and what it's doing alongside AFLW which is what I'm striving to get back to.

"It was a pretty big change after I had been at Swan Districts for three or four years and we'd won three premierships in that time so it was obviously a big move. But just lifestyle-wise, it was a better place for me to go with me starting work as a full-time teacher, I'm a graduate teacher in my first year.

"So the convenience of the club being closer to my school was definitely what made the move a big priority. I had a few friends at Claremont and I've absolutely loved the move. 

"It's helped me fall in love with football again having lots of friends there and I've settled in really well. I picked up the vice-captaincy as well and I'm really enjoying my time there so far."

Looking back to 2016 when Bonser's life took a hit that many others not as strong might have struggled to not only come back from, but end up growing because of, she would never pretend that it wasn’t tough.

To have your life thriving and based on being physically active to suddenly being grounded with having both knees reconstructed is quite the blow.

But the attitude that Bonser attacked her recovery with has to be admired and that's why it wasn’t a time of wallowing, rather she continued to grow and develop in so many different ways during the recuperation.

"It was a massive hit and not just to my football. I was studying to be a PE teacher at the time and working as a personal trainer, and I had just been drafted by the Fremantle Dockers so I was going to become a semi-professional athlete," she said. 

"To then be told that my body wasn’t right and that I would need surgery and have a really slow 12 to 18 months of recovery was mind blowing. It was devastating because it felt like my world was being turned upside down and everything was being pulled out from under me. 

"It was devastating but once I got over the fact that I had to go through that, it actually grounded me as a person and made me realise that there's more to life than just sport and football. 

"It made me realise that if this is the worst thing that was going to happen to me then I'm actually quite blessed because I still have my legs, I still have a roof over my head, nobody close to me has passed away and I was going to recover from it. 

"It pulled me back to the reality that I was still lucky in a lot of ways because there's a lot of people still worse off than me. It definitely made me grow up a bit quicker and explore other areas of life, and other hobbies so it was a big eye-opener in a lot of ways. I always explain it as the best, worst thing to ever happen to me."

Just because Bonser had an attitude to be admired after the knee surgeries and during the recovery didn’t mean it didn’t come with its challenges, especially early on when she was largely incapacitated at least in the short-term.

What she focused on was not rushing the comeback and doing all the right things to recover fully, and that's a big reason why she has been able to comeback from the reconstructions so strongly.

"It was a very slow first six months. I went in for surgery five or six days after I found out for the first one and I was at least still contracted to the club so after a week or two of bed rest I was up and about, and going to training and working out on my arms and doing what I could at the club," Bonser said.

"Then about a month later I went in for my second surgery and repeated the process again. I had a bit of time off everything obviously but then went back to Freo and did what I could. That kind of started my rehab journey which ended up taking about a year and-a-half to two years until I returned back. 

"I always knew it would take that long. A lot of people put a timeline on an ACL reconstruction of a year, but in my case I knew there wasn’t really a timeline because my situation was so unique and levels above other people in the fact that it was both knees. I didn’t want to go through it all again so I wanted to make sure I was fully recovered before I tried to make a comeback."

Bonser was able to make it back on the field with Swan Districts late last season where she returned against the Peel Thunderbirds. She played well and even kicked a goal while also playing in Swans' first semi-final defeat at the hands of Subiaco.

Getting back to play football again just over two years after having both knees reconstructed was an accomplishments she was deservedly proud of, and emotional about when she reflects.

"I took one whole season off and then came in at the back end of the 2018 season and I got to play a couple of games. One was in the last round and then I got to play in a final which we lost. It was amazing to get back playing again and the girls were all just so supportive," she said.

"We won the first game that I came back in and it was absolutely amazing to be back out there. I kicked a goal too and it felt like I was making my debut all over again and all the girls got around me because they were happy I made it back.

"It was an amazing feeling and it was really emotional after it had been such a rollercoaster ride over the last two years to get back to playing again after having everything fall out from under me, and building myself back up and even stronger.

"It was the best feeling in the world and I've always believed in delayed gratification. That's always been in the back of my head and I've always said I wouldn’t rush back because it will be worth it in the end. 

"A lot of the time the longer you wait and the more good things you do to build your journey, it always makes for a better return in the long run. It was the icing on the cake to get back out there and play a pretty good game first up."

Given Bonser was so close to making an AFLW debut before the news that both her ACL's were ruptured, her dream now is to get another chance at the top level hopefully as soon as in 2019.

But for now she is focused on having a strong season with Claremont and getting back to enjoying playing football on a regular basis again.

"Reflecting on how I was as a player before I got drafted and before I went through the knee surgeries, I think that now I'm more educated about my body and I know what I should and shouldn’t be doing," Bonser said.

"But then also I've grown so much as a player and person through having to sit out and watch for nearly two years. That made me see the other side of the game and I had to analyse the tactics and look at the game to still grow myself when I wasn’t playing.

"Being more educated about the game and my body means I feel like I'm much better placed in a lot of ways now which should help me be an even better player now as well as coming back stronger physically.

"That's been a good thing for my football and I'd like to think I am a better player now so hopefully that all plays a part in me returning to AFLW.

"I'd be happy for that to be either the Eagles or Dockers in the draft, but for now I'm just putting my head down and working hard to hopefully put myself in the best position to get picked up again."