Liz Clay: ‘I feel like I’ve had a second chance with my career’

The darkest time in Liz Clay’s athletic career produced its share of silver linings. And now Australia’s top hurdler hopes they will propel her to the Paris Olympics.

It was July 2022 and Australia’s No.1 sprint hurdler, Liz Clay, was competing in the 100m heats at the World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Oregon.

But then, as she went over the sixth hurdle, the nightmare began.

The elite Gold Coast-based athlete tripped and crashed into the seventh hurdle.

Falling to the ground, she broke her foot, dashing her hopes of competing in the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, less than two weeks away, and most of the Australian athletics season.

An Instagram message she posted in the wake of the devastating incident was poignant in its simplicity. “I’m sorry,” she wrote.

The road back has been challenging for the 2020 Tokyo Olympian.

But now, with her foot fully recovered and a fresh outlook on life, the 28-year-old plans to compete in next month’s Chemist Warehouse Australian Athletics Championships in Adelaide (part of the Chemist Warehouse Summer Season) to qualify for the Paris Olympics in July.

Liz Clay’s lessons from the injury

The foot injury, although heartbreaking at the time, brought a raft of unexpected upsides, Liz tells The House of Wellness.

“It’s by far the biggest injury I’ve had in my career and the rehab is the biggest challenge I’ve had in my whole life.

“But there’s been so many silver linings from this injury — so many things have happened that would not have happened had I not broken my foot,” Liz says.

Being forced on to the sidelines led to some coaching changes and allowed Liz to look within and put into place something she’d never really practised as an elite athlete: self-care.

“From a technical point of view, we were able to take a step back and look at my program as a whole and see where our faults were and really take time to work out how to fix them,” she shares.

Liz Clay on the importance of self-care

“The injury also made me realise when I was competing I was going to training, competing and going home and I wasn’t doing much self-care.

“So I’ve had to adopt some things to, number one, fill my time while on the sidelines and, number two, because I realised I could be taking care of my body a whole lot better.”

Liz has taken up yin yoga — “which I absolutely love” — and going to a recovery centre with a sauna and hot and cold pools.

“I do those two things twice a week and they are great for my mental health,” she says.

“And knowing I’ve done something extra to add to my training for the next day also gives me a sense of fulfilment. I feel like I’ve had a second chance with my career, so I do all those things tenfold now and have really seen the benefits.”


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A post shared by Liz Clay (@lizclay_)

Lessons Liz Clay learnt during rehab

A big lesson has been not doing things only once or twice or during intensive training periods — “it’s doing everything consistently in small doses”.

Another lesson has been patience, gifted by the gruelling rehabilitation, which taught her how to walk, run and then sprint again.

“Because it was such a bad injury, we had to take it really slow. You’d go ahead in leaps and bounds, then it would be a few steps back and I’d have to sit out for a bit, then I’d take a few more steps forward,” she recalls.

“As a sprinter, not doing anything fast for so long meant it took longer to get back than I expected. But my team did an awesome job to get me back to race in less than 12 months.”

The injury wasn’t just physical — it was also mental.

“Leading up to that injury I was just on a roll of competing and travelling and really in a rhythm and then all of a sudden that stopped and I had to start again,” Liz says.

“The hardest part came when I least expected it. The first three months were quite easy mentally because I’d come to terms with missing out on the rest of the season and I was so busy with rehab — having surgeries and seeing my physio, I had quite a lot on. But it was after I’d been running for a couple of weeks that it really sunk in how bad the injury was and how far I had to go.

“It really crept up on me without me realising and there were some dark weeks. But that’s part and parcel of what we do and I’ve got so good now at anticipating those things.”

Liz Clay back on track

Liz returned to competition in Switzerland in July 2023. She notes she couldn’t have got there without the support of her team both on and off the track, including her family, who navigated the rocky times with her.

“My parents and my brother are my number one supporters and it’s been a learning curve for them, too, because as parents they want to fix everything for you, but they can’t, so it’s been a challenge for everybody,” she says.

“We’ve all learnt through the process. A lot of my friends either are or were athletes, so they understand. They know what to say and I’m so lucky I’ve had amazing people around me throughout this whole process.”

Liz Clay’s Paris 2024 Olympic dreams

Liz is now ready to post a time that will earn her a place at a second Olympics.

“I think about it all the time — what Paris would mean compared to Tokyo,” she says.

“With Tokyo, I had quite a smooth transition from competing to qualifying to being at the Olympics achieving my lifelong dream, and I also performed really well there. (She recorded a personal best time of 12.71 seconds in the semi-finals but failed to qualify for the final by .04 seconds.)

“Whereas I feel there’s a lot more at stake this time. I’ve got a great comeback story so I really want to put the icing on the cake by qualifying and making the final in Paris.”

Chemist Warehouse, in partnership with Athletics Australia, supports athletes from grassroots to elite level.

Read more on recovery and mindset:

How to think like a champion, according to mindset coach Ben Crowe

How Olympian Anabelle Smith tackled setbacks

Champion runner Catriona Bisset: ‘Mental health is not a weakness’

Why you need a personal pep talk

Written by Megan Hustwaite.