From broken back to goal-scorer: remarkable comeback for Aussie Raso
Six months ago Australian international Hayley Raso broke her back in the US National Women's Soccer League and faced the prospect of never playing football again.
But she had a dream to be at this year's women's World Cup in France and with the aid of medical staff, a wheelchair and a walking frame, she has battled back from near-disaster.
Remarkably, the 24-year-old returned to the field as a substitute in Australia's 2-0 win over New Zealand at the Cup of Nations in Sydney on Thursday, and capped the moment by scoring a blinding goal.
Just three minutes after coming off the bench late in the second half, she rounded a defender and drilled the ball into the net for an incredible return.
"I think it was just overwhelming for me," she said of getting on the scoresheet.
"I'm just so excited to be out here playing again and to get a goal topped it all off."
Portland winger Raso's life crumbled last August when she collided with Washington Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe and was stretchered off in agony.
X-rays showed three broken vertebrae in her back and she has had to learn how to walk again.
Raso told broadcaster ABC she remembers the moment vividly -- her legs numb and her World Cup dreams crushed.
"I couldn't do anything at that moment, I was just in so much pain, I couldn't move my body," she said. "I can remember just saying: 'Help me, help me'. I knew that something bad had happened."
She spent a week-and-a-half in hospital before a gruelling rehabilitation process.
"I had a few episodes where I passed out because of the pain and I went into shock," she said.
"Eventually I was able to get up, slowly and with a lot of help.
"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."
Incredibly, she recovered sufficiently to make her return to football for Brisbane Roar in late January before getting the call-up from Australia.
"This injury pushed me to my absolute limits," she said on Twitter recently.
"This whole journey was an extreme mental and physical battle. I didn't think I'd make it out, but I am so happy to start my next chapter."
World governing body FIFA wished her well ahead of her comeback for the Matildas on Thursday.
"Great to see @HayleyRaso back on the international stage with @TheMatildas after a six-month injury absence," it said.
© 2019 AFP