From Injury To Domination – A World Champion’s Journey

In September 2016, Taylor Made Coaching was approached by 6x World Champion Wakeboarder, Harley Clifford. Needless to say I was pretty excited and incredibly grateful for the opportunity to work with someone of Harley’s caliber.

Harley came to TMC seeking help with the rehabilitation of his left anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) after he had an accident whilst wakeboarding in the U.S. Landing with too much knee extension, Harley knew something was up straight away. He was taken to hospital and underwent ACL reconstruction surgery, where surgeons took a small graft from Harley’s hamstring to help with the regeneration phase of the ligament.

The injury, resulting surgery and recovery would not only have a physical effect; but manifest as a uncategorised mental stressor for any professional athlete. Wakeboarding is Harley’s life and he was out for at least 6 months post operation.

My goal as a holistic health & high performance coach became very apparent. I wanted Harley back boarding and even better than he was pre injury. The process for this can be daunting from an outside perspective. But, by staying present with the situation and addressing the body from all angles of health, I knew we could make it happen.

At TMC we address every injury from the inside out. In Harley’s case, a strict nutritional program had to be followed to address the inflammation in his body. Inflammation can be present in our bodies from injuries and gut inflammation can be due to our nutritional and lifestyle choices. Gut inflammation is an issue because it will begin to shut down the inner unit muscles surrounding the gut. These are the muscles that stabilise your spine and therefore stabilise the extremities. So by addressing inflammation in the gut we are on our way to decreasing inflammation of the injured area and also the supporting musculature of the body.

The physical aspect of Harley’s program started with lengthening certain muscles and fascia through stretching. It also involved specific mobilisation techniques that gave more range of motion to his joints. From a thorough assessment we found that there were many imbalances within Harley’s body. We had short and tight muscles on one side of the body whilst the same group on the other side was assessed as long and weak. You can visualise what they may look like in anyone; rotational issues, spinal curvatures, hypertrophy/atrophy, favouring one side ect. These imbalances are super important to address in rehabilitation of every single client, Harley included.

These types of imbalances arise in many one sided sports; Surfing, Golf, Tennis, Wakeboarding, swimming and only breathing to one side are all examples. We can also develop an imbalance after an injury. If someone enjoyed running and became injured for any reason, the brain starts to learn to steer away from the pain. Even once the pain has subsided, the brain has still developed a habitual behaviour to stay off the leg. Resulting in an overuse pattern leading to an imbalance and therefore an injury elsewhere.

Where does the strengthening phase come in? Well as you can tell, finding what the specific imbalances are is the crucial first step to all TMC programs. The first phase (phase 1 program) is dedicated to addressing posture and removing imbalances that are leading to the problem. We spent hours upon hours just strengthening the relationship from Harley’s brain to his inner unit muscles. His postural muscles had to be working perfectly too. If he wasn’t recruiting these muscles on demand then how could he stabilise his knee whilst landing a cork 1080 into the flats? The answer is simple, he couldn’t.

Once we had things talking and working on demand, we then started to see things working as one – the body was working together. The funny thing is when we put so much energy into this, the knee had the chance to heal. So during these phases of training we started to see a big drop in pain and better structure and alignment of the knee under stress.

With that goal of being back on the water late December 2016, I knew in my mind training had to progress towards very sports specific conditioning. I had to have him moving in the gym, the way he would in the water before he strapped the boots on for the first time post surgery.

The specifics of the program started to dial themselves in. Harley had lost around 12kg by this stage (late December) and I was starting to witness more mobility and strength in his patterns. Continuously I would be queuing and re training the brain to move differently than before. Even as a world champion, we wanted to push the limits of moving differently. Create more mobility to twist easier, new recruitment to jump higher and more spacial awareness to land easier. All of these skills had to be applied in a gym environment and then practiced on the water.

The first World Tour stop in Melbourne was fast approaching on March 11th. I had no doubt in my mind that his landing game was strong and gave the nod to do some of that absolutely outrageous stuff wakeboarder’s do. At his first comp back, our goal of building Harley back onto the water better than before came true. The first run of Harley’s return was a 100 point ride. Equally the highest point ride in history, with Harley only ever receiving a 100 point ride once before, and the only rider to record a 100 point ride, ever. What a win. What a success. It was empowering for myself too, witnessing a program from start to it’s execution.

In April, Harley travelled to Florida for stop number 2 on the World Tour in Orlando. Now knowing what he’s capable of and by applying the confidence in a competition setting, Harley went big. So big, he pulled off a gold medal in his second event back.

Now, Harley is touring in the US jumping from event to event, living the dream as a professional wakeboarder. During this time we’re staying in contact to maintain and apply everything we have learnt about his body to keep this ball rolling. Harley has also has some amazing coaches in the US, who I feel work well with his needs and are also a part of the picture for Harley’s vision.

To look back on the past 6 months leading us to where we are now, Harley’s commitment and trust into the program has truly been the key to our success. Trusting in my program without compromise, allowed our focus to be present and therefore our goals to be aligned. This is a recipe for success.

I’m looking forward to seeing another world title at the end of the year for Harley. The hard work and dedication has been outstanding. The proof is in his epic results!

Thanks for reading, be sure to watch Harley’s journey through social media.

If you’re interested in becoming pain free or simply want to move better, 1 : 1 coaching could be for you! Contact Coach Taylor

Happy Moving!


1 reply
  1. Marco HLC
    Marco HLC says:

    Hi Taylor miss seeing your smiling face. I would expect nothing less from a trainer and human of your quality. Love seeing you chase your dreams.

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