Holden on to the Olympic Dream

Injuries and sports go hand in hand. For professional athletes who compete at the elite level, suffering an injury is commonplace, if not downright expected. Competing for that championship? Trying to make the national team? Expect to feel bruised, beaten up, and (more often than we’d like to admit) sprained, strained, and maybe even torn.

At just 19 years old, Rhys Holden had accomplished three of his biggest goals in water polo and was in the form of his career. He was then told he should never play again.

After training with the Australian Men’s Water Polo Team for a year, in 2017 Rhys was officially named to debut in the Intercontinental Cup. A short time after his return from tour, Rhys captained the Australian Junior Team at the World Championships and won a National League Title with UNSW Wests. 

Rhys describes that time as the peak of his career, noting, “it was a dream come true to finally reach that point and make that step. I accomplished these three huge goals in the same year and then suddenly went from this huge high to a huge low of being told I needed surgery! I was devastated.”

After months of intense hip pain, Rhys was diagnosed with labral tears and significant dysplasia in both of his hips. “The shape of my hips that I was born with definitely weren’t perfect, and the repetitive eggbeater from water polo wore my labral over time. It got to the point were part of my labral just didn’t exist, it was bone on bone.” Rhys explains.

After surgeons and doctors in NSW told him that his injuries would end his water polo career, Rhys refused to accept defeat, travelling to Melbourne to discuss surgeries that would allow him to one day play water polo again. Rhys talks about the procedures that followed, noting, “there were five surgeries in total from March to September 2018 and I was advised to never play again.”

While Rhys admitted his return to water polo will ultimately result in more hip surgeries within the next 5 to 10 years, he has set his sights on Paris 2024. Talking of his future, he says, “I have accepted that National League and Tokyo 2020 aren’t on the cards for me short term, but my long-term goal is Paris 2024.”

Rhys made the first step towards his return last weekend at Beach Water Polo Fours when he got back in the water and played water polo for the first time since his surgeries. Apart of the winning team Shire Pies, Rhys commented, “I was really nervous in the lead up to the day, but once I got there and realised how social the tournament was, I was so relieved. There wasn’t any pressure to perform or that intense competitiveness, so I ended up really enjoying it. It was the perfect way to get back in the water.”

It is obvious that Rhys’ love of the sport and determination will ultimately see him return to the game on a competitive level, no matter what doctors tell him. Speaking of Rhys’ inspiring story, founder of Beach Water Polo Fours, Scott Nicholson comments, “I am really happy that this event was able to provide the perfect opportunity for Rhys to get back in the water and play again. While there is still a trophy to win at the end of the day, all levels of ability are welcome at our tournaments to enjoy the sport.”

Emma Brown