Everton’s Hayley Raso says she refuses to be “defined” by her career-threatening injury two years ago, when she fractured three vertebrae in her back.
The 26-year-old broke her back in August 2018 while playing for Portland Thorns in the National Women’s Soccer League in the US, after colliding with Washington Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe.
The Australian winger told The Players podcast: “I want to be an inspiration, I want to be a role model but I want to be known for what I do on the field.
“I don’t want to be known for something that happened to me some time ago.”
She went through a gruelling rehabilitation process, learning how to walk again and using the 2019 World Cup in France as her “shining light” and motivation to get herself back to fitness.
“It was the most excruciating pain I’d ever been through. I was in a lot of pain, it was traumatic,” she said.
“It was so weird to me because I just think if you’ve broken your spine you’re never going to walk again but I knew I could feel my legs.
“I try not to go back on my injury or look back – I don’t want to be afraid of playing or reliving those moments in my life that were so bad, I really want to move forward.”
Raso returned to the pitch just six months after the injury, scoring for the Matildas against New Zealand in March 2019.
“I had been on for a minute and I scored and it was absolutely amazing – I felt that everything I’d gone through was worth it to be back on the pitch,” she said.
“I think my mentality gets me through most things, if I wasn’t as mentally strong as I am I probably wouldn’t have come back from that injury.”
Raso appeared in every match for Australia at the 2019 World Cup in France, which she describes as a “dream come true”.
“I went to the 2015 World Cup but I didn’t play. So I really wanted to be at that 2019 World Cup and after going through my injury it was kind of like coming out of the other side and I was back to myself.”
Raso joined Everton in January 2020 after a loan spell at Brisbane Roar, but had to wait seven months before making her debut for the Toffees, initially because of an international call-up and then because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I always feel like I have stuff to prove, it’s just a mindset I have. As players and athletes and as people chasing dreams there’s always something to prove,” she said.
Raso is training to be a paramedic but says that for now she wants to “stick to football”.