BACKING her national squad from a distance just two weeks ago, Haylee Redfern cheered her Aussie peers on from her home back in Forbes this year.
Livestreaming Portugal's World Kettlebell Sport Championship on June 3, the national and international weightlifting legend knew the event she was missing, was because she chose to put her health first by opting to undergo a "lifechanging" operation.
"At the end of last year, I was basically in the best [physical lifting] form of my life," Ms Redfern said on Friday in Lucknow, where she was one of 29 recipients for a Community Recognition Statement.
"Then when COVID restrictions eased, I got word from my surgeon at Westmead Private Hospital that they could perform lifechanging surgery on me, which would be in the form of a bone transplant in my left ear."
Otosclerosis, a rare bone disease in the middle ear, was first discovered in Ms Redfern by an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist in 2018.
With pregnancy accelerating the condition, and noticing patent impacts to her day-to-day functioning, she sought a second opinion toward the end of 2021.
Ms Redfern's bone disease had progressed, restricting her response to sound waves and literally tipping her centre of gravity.
The lifting champion had reached almost total loss of hearing in one of her ears.
"I was 90 per cent deaf in my left ear and it was starting to really affect my balance, with side effects like severe vertigo and nausea," Ms Redfern said.
"I was originally a Crossfitter, but the up and down movements of Crossfit made me physically sick, so instead of giving up, I changed the style of my training to weightlifting - that was how I originally got into Kettlebell sport."
Just in 2021, she'd secured two first place titles in the IKMF World Championships, set seven Australian records, had placed both first and third across national championships and was crowned Forbes' Sportsperson of the Year.
Training on a daily basis, however, was growing harder.
The record-lifting champion gradually felt weighed down by the end of 2021, carrying more than the physical load of kettlebells.
"The reason why I opted to get the operation done when I did, was because my mental health was declining quite rapidly, especially during COVID," she said.
"I relied heavily on - was basically dependent on - lipreading. Even going to the supermarket was a challenge, because people would pull me up and they'd be talking ... and I couldn't hear a single thing that they were saying.
"At the end of last year, they took the mandatory mask-wearing away, but then they brought it back in, because COVID had escalated again - and that's when I found that my mental health deteriorated quite rapidly.
"I couldn't communicate with people. So, basically I just shut myself away."
Ms Redfern's operation went ahead at the end of March this year, removing the bones out of her middle ear and replacing them with a mechanical device to restore her hearing.
Returning to training just four weeks ago, her post-operative healing period, she says was difficult.
"I'm coming back to it [training] now, but the surgery needed to be done and I opted for it because it was affecting my life. I opted to look after me first," she said.
"I'm not going to push myself, I'm going to listen to my body and that's going to be the biggest thing - I don't want to bust my eardrum and have to start all over again, because the recovery from this ear surgery was actually one of the hardest things I've ever had to go through."
During almost one month of not being able to walk unassisted, sleeping with the lights turned on and no driving, Ms Redfern says her "incredible support network" back in her hometown of Forbes was what got her through the ordeal.
She's been easing back into training for the past four weeks, and says she's starting to feel more like herself again.
"I'm feeling good now, I'm feeling really good," she said.
"Training is like my release, it's my escape as well and after having that taken away from me in the last three months, it's been a massive challenge for me to sort of bring myself back down.
"I've had to take a couple of big, deep breaths with things, but now, I'm up and moving - on the road to recovery again, getting back onto that Australian team and then I'll hopefully get over to Europe to compete."
To requalify for the Australian National Kettlebell Team, Ms Redfern has set some clear objectives in order to get back there, where the ultimate aim involves a European-bound flight next year.
"My first step is to make the Australian Nationals this year in Tasmania [on September 17] and then hopefully, I'll compete at a few state title and open events early next year," she said.
"Then, that will then hopefully get me to the Australian team again to get over to that platform for the World Championships - to compete at Hungary in 2023 - that's the goal."
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