JUST hours after rupturing her ACL in January, Kate Lutkins was putting the wheels in motion to defy convention and get back to playing as quick as possible.
Brisbane's match-winning defender suffered the devastating injury in the opening minutes of season six against Adelaide at Flinders University Stadium, almost certainly spelling the end of her 2022.
Full recovery for the knee reconstruction is typically 10 to 12 months, but Lutkins was having none of that.
Remarkably, the 34-year-old was back playing at AFLW level just eight months and one day after surgery and in a wonderful piece of symmetry will play her 50th game in Sunday's Grand Final against Melbourne.
Although Lutkins told womens.afl there was "no secret recipe" to her incredible return, she left no stone unturned in racing back to full fitness.
She had not even returned to Brisbane following the injury and was already doing everything possible to start recovering.
"From the start I had a really good mindset about it," Lutkins said.
"I did go shopping at 2am and found a Game Ready at Cash Converters the night after I did my ACL.
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"That was in Adelaide, so (former player development manager) Anna ran down half an hour south of Adelaide and picked that one up for me.
"That's been a big help having that at home."
The Game Ready essentially combines compression and cold therapy to enhance the speed of recovery.
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Lutkins also spent money on a home gym, saving her the 30 minutes of travel each way to get to the club's facilities to rehabilitate.
"Having those few recovery items at home and having the ability to do my reconditioning at home just allowed me to rest a lot more," she said.
The club's medical staff, who she is eternally grateful towards, set a program that she went about ticking off.
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In the early stages, season seven was not scheduled until 2023, so Lutkins said there was never any thought of racing the clock for the sake of playing earlier.
Once the season was brought forward to start in late August, the intercept expert conceded that did trigger the competitive fire.
"I'm someone that hears 12 months and likes to halve my recovery time, but that obviously wasn't realistic," she said.
"I just controlled what I could control, there was never "we're coming back in nine months", it was "let's tick this box, what's next?"
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"When the season moved forward, we did talk about coming back earlier than the standard 12 months, but we just had to take it day by day and week by week.
"It's so individual with an ACL … and my journey was fairly incident free.
"I definitely pushed myself to the limit and we pushed the body to the limit, but it was always worth taking the risk."
Lutkins said her age played a factor in pushing things along.
She had younger teammates to lean on that had been through the same process – Gabby Collingwood, Lily Postlethwaite and Sophie Conway have all suffered the same fate – but realised her path was different from others.
Lutkins says her career in the Defence Force taught her to be stubborn, resilient and determined and she "loved a challenge".
"I'm a senior athlete … I'm not 21 protecting the next 10 years of my life.
"It was that risk we weighed up across the whole journey, and at any point if I decided not to, it was always in my court.
"I was always willing to take the risk. I'm 34 and I've got to trust all the work and fitness and strength and conditioning the staff gave me, I had to trust in that and know I'm probably not going to do my knee again."
Fellow defender and inaugural Lion Shannon Campbell said seeing Lutkins get injured "broke my heart", but the comeback had been nothing short of inspirational.
"It's really uplifting and shows her character as a person," Campbell said.
"She did everything correctly … she tackles everything 100 per cent, whether it's rehab, running, the gym, that's just the person she is.
"A lot of us have learnt so much from her over the years.
"It's amazing she has got back this quickly and I can't wait to see her run out on the weekend."
Since returning against Essendon in round six, Lutkins has steadily improved her form, and if history is any guide, she'll be at her best against the Demons.
When Brisbane won the premiership in 2021, it was Lutkins named best on grand in the decider for her intercepting and resolute defence.
"The body and form are definitely on the way up and each week I feel more confident in my game," she said.
"I'm really confident in the knee. Each week something else is getting better and stronger and I'm reading the ball better.
"It's been a bit of a journey over the year. It's a real privilege and honour to play alongside the girls and I'm pretty stoked to make it back."