Horrific injury leaves ex-AFL player with lifelong disability
Former Hawthorn and Greater Western Sydney defender Tim Mohr will launch an unprecedented bid for compensation after leaving AFL football with a permanent disability.
Mohr suffered a knee injury that has led to a diagnosis of "drop foot", a condition that means he is unable to walk without a brace.
He suffered a horrific knee injury in a VFL practice match in March last year playing for Hawthorn and has undergone six operations. Two more surgeries are scheduled this year.
The 31-year-old has been told he will have a lifelong disability, will never run and will be unable to work in the building industry despite recently completing a two-year course.
Mohr told the Herald Sun this week he was shocked to be told the AFL did not have a WorkCover scheme to protect athletes who suffered permanent disabilities playing football.
Mohr has exhausted all other avenues through the AFL Players' Association's hardship fund and received just $18,000 from the AFL's career-ending injury scheme, so will ask for compensation through an AFL insurance scheme.
His dire predicament is a test case for the AFL's capacity to look after players post-career.
Mohr was told his was the first compensation request for a permanent disability of this nature.
"You would get compensation in any other industry," Mohr said this week.
"There is only one sports code in Australia that has WorkCover and that's jockeys in horse racing.
"(Footy) is such a brutal sport that you would think there would be something, but apparently not.
"It would be positive for the players to know they have some sort of backup if something was to happen. When I found out there wasn't, I was like, 'Why the hell isn't there?' "
Mohr's letter to the AFL requesting a lump-sum compensation payout details his journey through six surgeries: reconstructions of his anterior cruciate ligament, posterior cruciate ligament, lateral collateral ligament, an operation on his peroneal nerve, a tendon transfer and a nerve transfer.
"This injury will affect me for the rest of my life, mentally, physically and emotionally," he wrote.
"I have not been able to move on to the next phase of my life post-AFL because of this injury.
"I have started seeing a psychologist to try and help me through this tough period and uncertain future that I am facing.
"I have started to really struggle with the transition away from football and inability to pursue my passions outside of football. Over the past year I have been increasingly anxious about what the future holds.
"I am seeking your assistance with appropriate compensation for what has been confirmed as a very clear case of a severe workplace injury.
"This has not only ended my career in the AFL, but also left me with a permanent disability."
THE MOMENT THAT CHANGED TIM MOHR'S LIFE FOREVER
The tackle that would leave Tim Mohr with a lifelong disability was like so many others in a career in which he learnt disaster was never far around the corner.
He had taken to the field in a VFL practice match on March 23 last year, after Hawthorn had thrown him a career lifeline - an unlikely rookie role as defensive cover for James Frawley and James Sicily.
After 48 games with Greater Western Sydney across six seasons, which included a pair of knee reconstructions and nagging foot and hamstring injuries, the football journeyman believed at worst that 2019 would be a farewell season before moving on to a job in the construction and building industry.
"It was a practice match for Box Hill at Casey Fields and it's still a bit of a blur," the 31-year-old told the Herald Sun this week.
"I was tackled a little late. I was kicking the ball and was tackled at the same time.
"I don't even remember who tackled me and then I remember lying on the ground. My leg wasn't in the right spot. It wasn't facing the right way.
"I went into a panic and the doctors came out with morphine to relax it. They couldn't put my knee back in place until the muscles stopped twitching. The game was stopped as we waited for the ambulance.
"I went to the Dandenong Hospital and they said it was just a dislocated kneecap.
"Then the club doctor saw the video of the incident and said, 'Get to the Epworth Hospital right now'."
Instead of a 10-week recovery period, Mohr had suffered an injury that will affect every aspect of his life in the coming decades.
He needed reconstruction of the anterior, posterior and lateral ligaments.
More tellingly, the nerve and tendon damage was so significant that it would leave him with a condition called drop-foot.
For the past year, he has not been able to lift his right leg without the help of a brace.
Since suffering the injury, Mohr has endured six surgeries with two more planned this year and will never run again, let alone walk without a pronounced limp.
Everything he had envisaged about his life after football has been turned on its head.
He has no sensation in his leg below his knee, no lateral movement in the leg and has been told he will be permanently disabled.
A career in building management after two years studying a diploma in building and construction is clearly off the table, with Mohr facing years of recovery and an uncertain financial future.
He isn't sure how he will pay for his wedding to partner Kate Marsden, forced into a long-distance relationship as she works in Sydney while he works on his rehab in Melbourne.
This week the AFLPA will lodge a compensation claim with the AFL's insurers that if successful will give him time and money to prepare for what lies ahead.
This time last year Mohr had firmly set his mind on playing the remaining 52 golf courses in Australia's top 100 he was yet to grace.
Now his goal is to rehab his body enough to walk without pain.
"At the end of the day I am classified as being disabled for the rest of my life," Mohr says in his first interview after 12 nightmarish months.
"I have been told this is the first and only time this injury has happened in AFL history.
"It's just hard to talk about without getting too emotional. It's still raw in my mind knowing I won't have a fully functioning body later on in life.
"It's been over a year now and I fully dislocated my knee and ruptured ligaments and did nerve damage and there was a chance the nerve could come back. I have been living in hope for the last year but had to make the decision after Christmas to go in and fix the nerve.
"But the nerve was pretty shot so I have this thing called drop foot. It could be worse, I could be completely paralysed from the hips down.
"For 12 months I had drop foot and the most recent surgery was a nerve and tendon transfer. They cut 10cm of good nerve from my body and replaced it. Now I can lift my foot about an inch but from my knee down I can't really feel anything.
"I am trying to learn how to walk again and went for a walk the other day. I came back and took my shoe off and had ripped the whole back of my heel off and I didn't even know it, I couldn't feel it."
The photos of that leg are particularly ghoulish but even that single 2.5cm of lift in his leg has been worth the pain and scarring from his most recent surgery.
"When I first saw (the stitches) I was like, "Oh, f***," says Mohr.
"I wasn't expecting that to happen, I thought it would be a 10cm wound but when you look at it, my right leg is pretty cooked."
In his submission to the AFL about an insurance payout Mohr writes about a life utterly changed by a single incident.
His next surgery is scheduled for May 28, a leg realignment or osteotomy which will see his leg broken and then set back into place to ease his strain on his posterior ligament.
He can sit on the couch and look down at that leg curving in a way it is not supposed to, aware the surgery will mean more months of rehabilitation.
It means for the foreseeable future he will remain in his Kew apartment undergoing physio treatment but away from his Sydney-based girlfriend.
Coronavirus means the fairytale wedding in Scotland they had planned later this year is in limbo given travel limitations and he isn't sure how he will pay for it regardless.
"My fiancé and I had plans to start a family soon after our wedding and knowing that I will never be able to run around freely with my future children really plays on my mind," he writes in his submission.
"This injury will affect me for the rest of my life, mentally, physically and emotionally. I have not been able to move on to the next phase of my life post-AFL because of this injury.
"Not being able to work and move on from my football career has resulted in a significant deterioration to my mental health, which I would like to point out has always been exceptionally healthy and positive until this injury changed my entire life and future."
Mohr has no regrets about his the decision to accept Hawthorn's offer, and says from club doctor Michael Makdissi to head of welfare Cam Matthews the club's support has been unconditional.
Through a sheer stroke of luck his last official game of footy was categorised as a Hawthorn NAB Challenge clash - not the practice match he was playing in - so on top of his $75,000 wage he received match payments for the 2019 season under AFL injury provisions.
But the AFL's new system for career-ending injuries has been overhauled since Collingwood's Dane Swan received $400,000 when he retired with a broken foot in 2016.
"I got that payment last year but I was only on $75,000 (base) and because I had spent eight years in the system it means I got 25 per cent of my last contract," Mohr says.
"It was a bit of a punch to the face. I am struggling here to move, let alone get a job and move onto the next stage of my life. And here is $18,000, good luck. It's pretty s***.
"The AFLPA have been great through this but at the end of the day I have had a meeting with a lawyer in case nothing happens (with compensation).
"I don't really want to do that and have never wanted to but at the end of the day it's my life.
"He says it would be a totally different story if it happened in another industry. He said, 'This would be a no-brainer'.
"You would get compensation in any other industry. There is only one sports code in Australia which has Work Cover and that's jockeys in horse racing. (Footy) is such a brutal sport that you would think there would be something but apparently not.
"If would be positive for the players to know they have some sort of backup if something was to happen. When I found out there wasn't I was like, "Why the hell isn't there?"
"It should be known that there isn't any compensation plan."
Veteran player agent Peter Jess has long lobbied for workers compensation, arguing that Australian sporting codes are denying basic human rights of their workers.
Mohr's own manager, Tim Hazell of Vivid Sports Management, says Mohr's resilience in the past 12 months has been remarkable.
"When GWS delisted Tim he was really excited about the opportunity at Hawthorn and was really optimistic it would prolong his career. But this has been a really emotionally draining time," he said.
"It has taken a toll and he's just a ripping kid and getting married soon, so at least he has a strong support network around him.
"From all the research we have done we haven't seen a case like this before."
Originally published as Horrific injury leaves ex-AFL player with lifelong disability