The blow Owen Wright took to the head surfing a Pipeline Masters warm-up session in December 2015 was a blow we all felt.
The young Australian surfer was a serious contender his first World title crown when he took a wipeout leading into the key event. Initially, fans, friends and fellow competitors assumed he would shake it off and go on to take the final – and with it the world title. Instead, what developed was a heartbreaking 14-month road to recovery.
We watched with baited breath for word of his return, the seriousness of the injury only becoming apparent with his withdrawal from the 2016 season.
— Jack Anderson (@sportslawQUB) February 21, 2017
Other than social media updates and a short interview with a surfing magazine six weeks after the incident, Wright did not speak publicly about his emotional journey.
Insight into the traumatic turn of events for the 27-year-old came to light when his younger sister, Tyler Wright, won the 2017 Women’s title.
“It’s been a crazy injury. It’s been hard as a family to deal with someone that’s had a brain injury,” Tyler said to ABC Radio last year.
“It’s surprising, I’ve found not a lot of people know what it involves and how to really take care of someone in a position like that. It’s a very intense injury.”
— telegraph_sport (@telegraph_sport) February 21, 2017
Fans went into a frenzy over the weekend as the news broke of doctors and the WSL medical committee clearing Owen, allowing him to compete again.
However, word is still out as to whether Wright will accept his wildcard entry into the 2017 CT, with the decision to be made post the Newcastle event which Wright is currently competing in.
“Owen passed his own physician’s medical review and received the WSL medical committee’s approval to compete in Newcastle,” Kieren Perrow, WSL Commissioner, said.
“Following the Newcastle event, all parties will reconvene to discuss whether Owen wishes to accept the WSL wildcard to commence the 2017 CT season.”
On Tuesday, Wright won his comeback heat in the QS6000 Maitland and Port Stephens Toyota Pro in Newcastle, progressing to Round 3.
— ABC Grandstand (@abcgrandstand) February 21, 2017
“It felt amazing to get back out there and compete – it was really emotional,” Wright said.
“There is no doubt that this has been the hardest year of my life, a real rollercoaster ride. Now I’m through the bad, and on the other side of it I feel better, stronger and really excited to have this rash-shirt on and competing again.”
It was a tumultuous 2016 for Wright, “working through a heavy recovery, supporting his sister’s World Title win, and having a baby boy” with his partner, indie musician Kita Alexander.
— World Surf League (@wsl) February 21, 2017
“Honestly, having a baby is easy compared to a head injury. It seriously is. I feel like it was a hard way to prepare myself for having Vali, but things have been a bit easier than what I thought.
“Now that I’ve cleared the head injury stuff up, it’s on to learning how to be a dad.
“Don’t get me wrong, though. Having a child is totally overwhelming, but it also is literally the best thing ever.”
The Maitland and Port Stephens Toyota Pro can be streamed live from the WSL website with the window for the event closing February 26.
Like many of Wright’s fans, we will be intently waiting to hear if 2017 will be the comeback year for one of Australia’s favourite surfers.