LILLY Pollard's victory at the Association of Professional Bodyboarders (APB) Pipeline Pro in Hawaii earlier this year came as a "wonderful high" followed by the "lowest low".
Just weeks after winning the Hawaiian title in February, the Gerringong bodyboarder suffered a severe neck and back injury when she was thrown head-first into a sandbar at Mystics Beach in Minnamurra. The impact caused six compression fractures in her back and a fractured neck.
"It definitely came as a surprise to me, injuring myself in that way at my local beach break just after surfing the deadly reefs of Hawaii," she said.
"I thought I'd be out for the year and possibly never compete again."
Despite all odds, this week Pollard will travel across the South Pacific to compete in the second event on the APB World Tour, the 2014 Antofagasta Bodyboard Festival in Chile.
This will be the third consecutive year of the Antofagasta competition that unfurls down the rocky coastline, known for its consistent and uncrowded waves that lay just south of the Tropic of Capricorn.
"I can't believe how lucky I am that there has been no other world tour contests held during my absence these past few months. The Brazil event that was meant to be held last month was cancelled, which suited me fine as I wasn't ready for that event," Pollard said.
Following a four-month recovery break, the OK from the physio and a courageous return to the water, Pollard's "competitive drive" was restored.
"I had heard from different people that rehab could potentially take six months or even years before I'd be strong enough. But I focused on physio, gaining flexibility, eating the right foods for healing and just kept positive. I'm actually feeling great.
"I had a great surf at Aussie Pipe just a few weeks ago, and I realised I hadn't lost it," she said.
“It just felt so good to be back in the water and especially at that break, which is a similar wave to the one in Chile. I knew I had to book my flight to Chile, otherwise I'd be sitting at home regretting every minute of it. It's the first time I've had such a good start to the World Tour. I have to chase it. Maybe this year is meant to be my year, despite everything that's happened.”
Pollard will join more than 40 of the world's best female bodyboarder's all contesting for the Antofagasta title. In 2013 she finished a respectable third at the event and remains quietly confident for this year's event.
"I know this wave, I like this wave and past events that I have won over the years have been in heavy reef breaks like this one in Chile," she said.
"I know it's not a brilliant idea to go compete in a heavy reef break while recovering from a broken back and neck, but the physio has given me the all-clear, I'm feeling strong, and the reality is it's going to be dangerous anyway."
“All the top girls are competing this year, so I'm looking forward to challenging myself against them. I'd say the biggest threat is Isabela Sousa from Brazil, who is the current world champion,” she said.
“The other one I have to lookout for is Alexandra Rinder, who is only 15. She placed second behind me in Pipeline (Hawaii) and has also been surfing pretty incredible lately. She loves these kinds of heavy waves too"
“I think the best thing about this wave in Chile is it can be anyone’s game if your wait for the right ones.
“As long as I'm in the right place at the right time and make the most of that wave, that could be enough to win.”
Indeed, Pollard is no stranger to victory. Since starting her career, 15 years ago, she has won multiple Australian Titles and internationally won some major World Tour events; the El Confital Pro in the Canary Islands (2007), The Encanto Pro in Puerto Rico (2011), and most recently, the APB Pipeline Hawaii (2014).
Pollard said without the support from her employer, IGA Gerringong, and encouragement from a variety of people, her career couldn't have got this far.
"Work has been so supportive and given me the time off I need to really pursue it," she said,
"Also a big thanks goes out to everyone, especially the Gerringong locals, with their kind words of support. They have really helped build my confidence and inspiration."
"This time out of the surf has made me realise what I've got, what I want to achieve, and I think it's almost like this World Tour has been waiting for me."
The Antofagasta Bodyboard festival runs from August 26-31. Follow results at apbtour.com, on Pollard's Facebook LillyPollardBodyboarder or Instagram @lillypollard.