HAVING ruptured an anterior cruciate ligament in her knee for a second time, Essendon forward Daria Bannister knew she had to do something differently. 

The 24-year-old has had her fair share of major injuries over her relatively short AFLW career – a right and left torn ACL, a broken collarbone, and a torn meniscus (separate to ACL injuries).

Mentally, she desperately needed a break from the slog of rehab, particularly over the long AFLW off-season where there's no guarantee teammates will be around the club gym as she slogs through yet another stationary bike ride.

Essendon's AFLW head of medical services, Megan Smith, set Bannister a challenge. Find a non-football – yet still physical – goal to work towards.

Daria Bannister leaves the field after injuring her knee during the AFLW R7 match between Essendon and Richmond at Ikon Park on October 14, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

The Brimbank Park Running Festival – held in Keilor East, a stone's throw from Essendon's headquarters near Melbourne Airport – beckoned.

"Going through an ACL rehab, there are plenty of small wins you get – the first bike session, first run back, change of direction, you get to tick those things off. Sometimes, when you're working through the list, it can feel like you're going nowhere," Bannister told AFL.com.au.

"My partner and I stumbled upon across a couple of trail runs, and that was a massive goal. I'd never run a 10k, so it was going to be challenging for me and was something I was keen to achieve. I went to back to Megsy, and I think at this point I'd just started running, and I was like 'How do you feel about me training for a 10k trail run?', and she asked how long we had, and it was nine or so weeks.

"She's been incredible in programming my runs to get me to be able to perform a 10k on that day. It was challenging, it was very hilly, 30-degree heat, I almost wanted to cry when I finished, I felt like I'd just won gold."

Longer-distance running wasn't top of Bannister's list of hobbies prior to the trail run, so it was a brand-new challenge that helped break up the monotony of stock-standard injury rehabilitation.

Before she tore her ACL, she'd already been planning on working on her aerobic capacity once she got to the off-season, so the two goals worked beautifully together.

"For the eight weeks before the run, it was amazing to walk into the club and have people ask me questions about how my training was going for the 10k, how I was feeling about it, where was I doing it, and all these other things around that, rather than just how my return to football was going," Bannister said.

"It's definitely something new and challenging. I'm trying to enjoy running a lot more – football running can be very high intensity, always timed.

"I wanted to take the pace back, and run in different locations, and actually enjoy running in general. This was just something that's really helped that. I don’t know if it's sparked wanting to do any more trail runs, but a flat 10ks would be something I'm interested in later on."


Bannister's partner Angela also completed the trail run, while teammate Georgia Nanscawen – who returned from a torn ACL ahead of the 2023 season – has proven to be a valuable sounding board.

"My partner has been training alongside me for a little while now. She's been doing a lot longer distances, and she was a massive support, particularly on the day when the heat was kicking in and I didn't know if I wanted to keep going. She's been a massive support base for me, always challenging me and pushing me, which has been awesome," Bannister said.

"Georgia Nanscawen has been through this process and she understands how it feels going through those down days. I've definitely had a lot of chats with her, and she's been able to remind me that the feelings are normal, and it's okay to feel like that."

Bannister is also currently working as a teacher's aide in a primary school while she completes her teaching degree.

Bonnie Toogood, Madison Prespakis, Kodi Jacques and Daria Bannister during Essendon's 2023 team photo day at The Hanger. Picture: AFL Photos

Having ticked off the major goal of the trail run, she's much more refreshed and focused upon her return to football.

"I've now been able to progress really nicely through my rehab, start changing direction and building a bit more training with the group," Bannister said.

"Having those little focuses and small goals outside football, and good people around you who understand what you're going through and how isolating it can be, that's extremely helpful.

"I encourage anyone who is going through an injury or ACL rehab to set goals that are non-football related, I know that was really refreshing for me, and took my mind off trying to get back and tick all these little things off to get to the next stage, and it took that pressure off."