Western Bulldog Dale Morris’s amazing story.

Dale Morris and Family

Western Bulldogs footballer Dale Morris at home with his wife Gemma and children Riley and Charlie. Picture: Mark Dadswell Source: Herald Sun

Injury

An injured Dale Morris signals for a trainer before collapsing in pain with a broken leg. Picture: Michael Klein Source: Herald Sun

AUGUST 13, 2011.

As Dale Morris lies prone on the Etihad Stadium turf, his wife Gemma is at home “blissfully unaware” that his leg, and possibly career, has been shattered.

Six months pregnant, Gemma is watching the Western Bulldogs’ game against Essendon on a half-hour delay.

Then the calls come.

First from her best friend, then Morris’s parents.

The friend, who is at the game, makes her way to the Morris house in Keilor to look after their two-year-old son Riley so Gemma can rush to Morris’s bedside at The Avenue in Windsor.

But first she has to see the fateful marking contest for herself on the screen.

“Seeing the look in his eyes and him screaming … I’d literally never even heard him yell before, so I knew then it was bad,” she said.

“That’s all I was worried about, was how much pain he was in and what he was going through.

“I wasn’t even thinking about us and what might happen.”

But Morris is.

He is lying in the hospital room already thinking about the burden he will become.

Morris

Dale Morris on his way back from a broken leg. Picture: Michael Dodge Source: Herald Sun

A couple of hours have passed before Gemma reaches Morris, who is still in his playing gear.

He will stay in his shorts and jumper for two days, such is the pain when he moves.

“He just looked so vulnerable and defenceless lying there on his back,” Gemma says.

“He couldn’t move, he was in so much pain. If his leg moved a centimetre it was excruciating for him.

“We didn’t say anything. I just kissed him and he just stared up at the ceiling. He couldn’t even speak.”

Rather than insert a rod, surgeons set the broken bone with a view to letting it calcify.

It will heal naturally, but Morris needs a cast all the way from his foot to his hip. For a month he can hardly move.

“We had to set up the house like a rehab centre,” Gemma says.

“He had to get from the wheelchair on to the toilet seat with handles … we had to have ramps all around the house for the wheelchair.

“I couldn’t sleep in the bed with him for three months because any movement with his leg would hurt him too much. We set up his bean bag and it had to be positioned a certain way so his leg could sit at the right angle, and then he had to lie flat on his back.

“It killed his back as well. He was in agony, but he just had to be like that. He would take a huge amount of pain-killers just to go to bed.

Dale Morris

Western Bulldog Dale Morris at Whitten Oval. Picture: Rob Leeson Source: Herald Sun

“I would wheel him in and it would break my heart to have to put him in to bed and leave him there overnight.

“We had Riley’s new bed that we had bought, so I slept on that in the spare room, which was going to be Charlie’s nursery.

“And then in the morning he’d ring my phone to say he was ready to wake up and I’d wheel the wheelchair back in and get him in there.

“His cast was too heavy for me, so Dale had to lift his leg up and he would get into the wheelchair so slowly. We’d then sit at the breakfast table, have food and then put him on the couch for the day.

“He had to have a bed pan, he couldn’t go to the toilet during the day. It was awful, and that was for the full month.”
Nothing is easy.

“We only showered him every second day because it was just too difficult,” Gemma says.

“So the days that Riley was at creche we timed it so that Dale’s mum would pick Riley up and I would shower Dale.

“Getting him dressed after was probably the hardest part because you had to pull his pants up over this big cast and not move his leg in the slightest.

“I would be in tears because I could see the pain he was in. He was trying not to say anything and I was trying to be as gentle as possible.”

Gemma is a midwife. She had not worked for several months after suffering health complications in the early stages of her second pregnancy and, ironically, is due to return to her job on the Monday after Morris’s accident.

Dale Morris

The injured Dale Morris runs short sprints in front of the locals. Picture: Colleen Petch Source:Herald Sun

She would be put to work all right, but she didn’t expect her patient would be her husband and she would be working for love, not money.

“I do all these nursing duties, but to have to do it for your husband and know that it’s absolutely killing him to let you do this to him – he’s lost all his dignity, all of his independence – it was awful,” she says.

“People just don’t know that side of it. They’ve seen him come back 18 months later and he looks awesome. He’s fit, strong, got the muscles, but to think about what it took to get back to that is incredible.

“You just forget, it was so bad.”

After about six weeks the process to gradually shave down the cast on Dale’s leg begins. And just in time.

Early in October, Gemma, only 32 weeks pregnant, goes into labour.

She is in hospital for a week as doctors do all they can to prevent the baby from being born. Morris blames himself.

“I just thought with the injury and what I put her through with it all … there was nothing else that would have caused this except for me,” he says.

Doctors manage to halt the birth, but now it is Gemma who is consigned to bed rest – for eight weeks.

“I became the patient,” Gemma says. “Dale was still in his cast, but he ended up taking over the house, looking after me and looking after Riley.”

Morris in training

Dale Morris does some contesting with assistant coach Brett Montgomery. Picture: Colleen PetchSource: Herald Sun

Morris is still on crutches, which makes washing the clothes especially difficult seeing as he has to hobble up a flight of steps to get to the laundry.

“In a strange way you start feeling good about yourself,” he says.

“You’re looking after Riley, looking after myself, looking after Gem, looking after the house.

“I guess it could have been a little blessing in disguise, if you can look at it that way, that I was thrown in that situation because I was forced to start doing things again.”

It’s now December and Charlie is born. And Morris, after confidence-boosting conversations with fellow broken leg victims Garry Lyon and Michael Barlow, is back in training with an eye on Round 1, 2012.

One morning, as he drives himself to Whitten Oval and Riley to the neighbouring creche, he is confronted by Riley’s comprehension of his injury.

After weeks of running on an Alter-G machine – a weight-bearing treadmill – at the club, Dale is preparing to run outside for the first time.

“I remember saying to Riley in the car, ‘Daddy’s going to go for a run today’, because I was excited about it,” he says.

“But he started to get upset and said, ‘I don’t want you to’.

I asked him what was wrong and why he didn’t want me to run and he goes, ‘Because I don’t want you to hurt your leg again’.”

The run goes well. Everything, finally, is going OK.

That is, until 16 minutes in to his low-key return with Williamstown reserves on the last weekend of April.

The tightness he feels in his leg is later diagnosed as a stress fracture 3cm below the initial break.

After all this time he requires surgery to put a plate on the fibula bone.

“When they said there was a break in there I just had flashbacks to everything we went through when I was bedridden,” Morris says.

The leg ended up feeling better with the plate in for support, but Morris soon accepts the reality he will not play again in 2012.

He also questions whether he will ever play again.

“Especially after the setback I did,” he says.

“Early days with the injury I had no idea how everything was going to heal and if everything was going to come back to normal.

“And you hit the age of 30 and everyone starts doubting you anyway, so I had a few things working against me.

“We’d sit there and say, ‘I want to believe I can do it’, but with such a big injury I just didn’t know.”

Gemma could have been forgiven for wanting her husband to hang up his boots.

“But I didn’t want him to go out like that,” she says.

“He’d played almost 150 games straight, he’d worked so hard and I just didn’t want it to be taken away with such a devastating injury.

“I always said I wanted him to get back and play and finish on a good note.”

Today provides Dale Morris with his first opportunity to start penning the final chapters of his playing career.

Now that he is back to full fitness he even speaks of being able to play until his kids can sit in the stands and appreciate what they are seeing.

For now, though, he is just happy with one game, his 152nd.

And after everything they’ve been through, that’s enough for Gemma as well.

“He never complained once,” she says. “He could have just thrown his hands in the air, cracked it and said it was all too hard, but he never did.

“I basically did, because it was. It was just so hard. But he was just amazing and strong minded. I’m so proud of the way he handled it. I just think he’s incredible.

“I used to think he was pretty much invincible. Even his fractured back that he had a couple of years ago, he was only out for about four weeks.

“He just pushes through, nothing would get him down, but then to have this happen is a real wake-up call. Now I’m just scared as.

“To see him run out there and just be back to being Dale, he deserves nothing less than to go out there and play an awesome game.”

 

For: heraldsun.com