There are few more persistent Bombers than Jason Winderlich and his commitment to the club has been honoured as he assumes the mantle as this week’s Bomber Legend.
Across 13 seasons with the Bombers, Winderlich’s courage and endurance was unquestionable.
An immensely talented footballer, he was selected with pick 11 in the 2002 draft and immediately impressed.
Over his first few seasons he began to build momentum, but was cut down by a broken fibula in his 30th game in 2006 in what began a spiral of devastating injuries.
After getting back on the park and rebuilding his strong form, the cruel world of football struck again.
In round 11 against Hawthorn in 2008 Winderlich suffered the first of a run of debilitating back injuries.
At 3:30 the following morning panic set in, and a phone call to club doctor Bruce Reid was the only option.
“I’d played out the game and couldn’t feel my legs that Saturday morning,” Winderlich said.
“I rang Reidy and he goes, ‘hop out of bed and try and walk’ and I tried to walk and I felt like I had two torn hamstrings and two calf muscles.
“I had a scan on my back, I’d ruptured a disc in my lower back, so I had major surgery on that. I was stuck in bed for six weeks.”
When Winderlich thought he was beginning to make progress in his recovery he faced yet another setback.
“12 weeks later it was time to try and get the body going again. I walked out the race at Windy Hill, got around about half way around a lap then I started to jog and I felt like I had a torn calf muscle.
“I went and had a scan, the disc had split open again, so I had to have the surgery again.”
He recalls some of his toughest days at the club as he fought to overcome the crippling pain.
“I remember there was one time at Windy Hill that Colin Hooper and Jay (Neagle) literally carried me from the locker room in Essendon because my back was cooked,” Winderlich said.
“I was laying on the floor in the change rooms and those two guys would carry me out.
“Jay would have his passenger seat laid down and he’d drive me home and literally drag me into the lounge room floor and just set up and watch a heap of DVDs because I wasn’t moving for four or five days.”
The versatile speedster was told he may never play elite sport again, but that wasn’t going to stop him.
He strung a strong and consistent patch of games together, culminating in a third-place finish in the best and fairest in 2010. But injury found a way with Winderlich.
He suffered an ACL tear alongside Courtenay Dempsey just four rounds into the 2011 season and still regrets opting for a traditional replacement, which jeopardised his strength in the years to come.
“I’d never had hamstring troubles ever before and as soon as I had the knee reconstruction and they cut that piece out of my hamstring, that was it.
“Since then I’ve never been able to run pretty much flat out after that.”
After toiling as he considered his future during the club’s supplements saga, Winderlich re-committed to the red and black and was overjoyed by his preparation for the 2015 season.
“That was easily the best pre-season I’d ever had by a mile,” he said.
“All the running, all the strength stuff, all the practice games – I was loving it, it was brilliant.”
But injury reared its ugly head again. His back was “cooked” and his body was “fried”.
Re-injuring his back was devastating and left him temporarily immobile, but he knew he could still contribute to the team.
He credits assistant coach Matthew Egan with saving his time at Essendon after he convinced his coaching colleagues to let Winderlich stay as he began to adjust to life outside of football with a timber business.
Winderlich wanted to help any way he could, you just couldn’t keep him down.
“It’s an extremely hard time that we’re going through as a club at the moment, if I can be in there cracking jokes, even in the locker room having a laugh with the guys, that might help,” he recalled.
While Winderlich was forced to battle through hardship throughout his career, the lifelong Bombers supporter still sees his time at Essendon as a dream come true.
He retired as a people’s champion of the club, so make sure not to miss this weekend’s Country Game as we honour one of the greatest clubmen of his generation.
Get your tickets to the match HERE.
To hear more of Winderlich’s journey watch his chat with Rohan Connolly above or listen to the full interview via the podcast below.
Source: Essendon FC’s website