Mark Mathews Overcomes His Very Own Cape FearIn most professions, losing your leg isn’t really something you need to worry about. Sitting at your desk snacking on almonds every two hours is probably not going to result in a limb getting amputated.
But for professional big wave surfers, every day on the job is accompanied by an acute possibility of serious, career-threatening injury.
This is something that Maroubra surfer Mark Mathews knows only too well. In October last year, Mathews was surfing at a secret reef break on the south coast of NSW. When his knee dislocated after getting slammed feet-first into the reef by an eight-foot wave, he knew he was in trouble, but even he couldn’t anticipated the gravity of the situation.
“I landed on my feet and my knee dislocated, but when it dislocated it tore through the major artery in my leg and then also the major nerve tore as well,” Mr. Mathews said.
“My leg was ballooning up, but at the time I thought my shin had just snapped.
“The emergency services came and I was pumped full of a lot of anesthetics and painkillers, so I never really felt the worry that I could potentially lose my leg.
“While I was under, the surgeons repaired the artery – I had an artery bypass done straight away. They got it done within an hour off me losing my leg, so it’s pretty lucky.
“We were waiting a day or so to see if the pulse would come back to my leg, and then it did, thank God.”
At this point, many of us would decide that while surfing is great fun, a career change might be in order – but not Mathews.
The doctors have now completely reconstructed his knee, but “they couldn’t fix the nerve because it was too damaged, so that leaves me with foot drop where I can’t lift my foot up.”
In a few months, Matthews will get a tendon transfer, whereby doctors put a tendon from the side of his ankle on to the top of his foot, which should alleviate the ‘foot drop’ problem to some extent.
“It won’t be a hundred percent or anything, but it will give me enough movement to be able to surf again, hopefully,” he said.
In the meantime, Mathews has still been getting in the water, albeit on a bodyboard, and he did recently paddle out into the forgiving waves of Waikiki on a mal, jumped up on his good foot, and found that as long as he kept the weight there, surfing was still a possibility.
Evidently, retirement is not on Mr. Mathews’ agenda. He is the contest director and brains behind the Red Bull Cape Fear surfing competition. Last year’s Red Bull Cape Fear has been described by many surfing pundits as the most entertaining surfing event ever contested, bringing out some of Australia’s best big wave surfers to tackle some of the gnarliest waves ever surfed competition. The waiting period for the 2017 event is officially open until August 31, but it will only run if the conditions are perfect (read: bloody big and scary).
For now, when Mathews isn’t in or near the water, he’s focussing on his public speaking career, working with companies worldwide and leading programs on team-building, perseverance and mental strength – the last of which is something he has really had to master over the past eight months.