Irish showjumper Cameron Hanley won his first international show jumping competition on Saturday after an almost two-year absence caused by a freak accident to his knee that resulted in 17 operations.
Speaking from Arezzo in Italy, the Mayo-born rider said: ” It was a small class, but it’s just fantastic to win again. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard the national anthem played for me, and it’s a great feeling.
“The knee is causing me no problems, but I have other small aches and pains just because I’ve been off the competition scene for so long. I have six horses here at Arezzo, and it’s just wonderful to be back.”
Riding the 10-year-old gelding Player du Quesnoy, Hanley took victory in the 1.35m jump-off at the Italian venue, finishing with a seventh of a second in hand over Italian runner-up Luca Maria Moneta and Bonheur S. On Friday, the 39 year-old also took an eighth place in the 1m45 speed class with Antello Z.
Hanley’s knee injury occurred in May of 2011 while playing with his children in the garden of his home in Germany, where he is now based, and resulted in such severe complications that surgeons were at one stage highly sceptical that he might ever ride again.
Horse Sport Ireland Chairman Pat Wall said: “Cameron is a wonderful example of determination in the face of adversity and will be a role model for many younger riders, I’m sure. He has been through a terrible two years with injury, but has fought his way back onto the international stage, and I am delighted to see him win today. I hope we’ll be welcoming Cameron back onto an Irish Nations’ Cup team in the not too distant future.”
Hanley ruptured his patella tendon in the incident in June, 2011.
“We were jumping some jumps (on foot) when my knee gave way. I knew straight away something was wrong as my kneecap was about 10cm higher than it should be,” he said.
Hanley was operated on the day after ruptured the tendon, but then developed an infection in the knee joint. Surgeons then removed some of the infected tendon and knee membrane.
“I then moved hospital and in August the doctors in Hanover performed a tendon transplant using tendon from above the knee and the back of the knee.
“That lasted about eight weeks but then there was a bad reaction and all the transplants had to be removed in November. To be able to move my leg in the future they did something called ‘reconstruction of complete knee extensor mechanism loss with gastrocnemius flaps’.
“This in effect means they replaced the removed tendon with the calf muscle of my right leg. All in all I had 17 operations and spent four months in hospital,” Hanley said.
The last operation was on December 20. In all, he spent four months in hospital.