SIMON White's long and frustrating journey back to full fitness has paid off, with the Carlton defender re-signing for 2014 this week.
As tough as White's rehabilitation has been since he fractured his C3 vertebrae in the VFL in late July, he told AFL.com.au on Tuesday he feels lucky.
Having recently resumed running and a full weights program, White, 25, is buoyed knowing he will be back with the Blues' main training group by their Arizona training camp in December.
Especially when he knows things could have turned out far worse when he tried to sidestep an opponent and duck under his arms during the last quarter of the Northern Blues' clash with the Box Hill Hawks.
That Saturday afternoon was wet and White slipped, his neck bearing the brunt of the oncoming tackle.
When he left the ground White didn't think he'd suffered anything more than a stiff neck.
He was soon keen to return to the ground but, fortunately, Carlton coach Mick Malthouse was already thinking ahead to his team's clash with Gold Coast the following week.
With White in line for a recall after returning from a knee injury, Malthouse told him his game was over.
"Mick just said over the sidelines, 'That'll do you, save the petrol for next week'," White said.
"So it was a bit of a time management thing. I was keen to go back on, I wasn't really that sore.
"I was pretty lucky in the end that the call was made."
White would not know for another three days how seriously he'd injured his neck.
He completed Carlton training that Monday and was in the middle of a Pilates session the following day when club doctor Ben Barresi told him his scans showed he had to see a neurosurgeon.
The subsequent news he had fractured his neck came as a complete shock.
"I didn't think anything was wrong at the time. I had a bit of a stiff neck and was sort of rolling around for a couple of days without too many cares," White said.
"So when I had the scan and found the fracture in there I could barely believe it."
As he was taking in what his rehabilitation would involve - at least eight weeks in a full neck brace, which included chest and back guards that would limit his movement severely - White admits he was frustrated.
After playing 17 games in his first three seasons with Carlton, the former rookie had played nine of the Blues' first 13 games in 2013 before a knee injury, and had been on the verge of a recall for round 18.
"For something that felt quite minor to finish off my season after I'd been able to get quite a bit of continuity - that was the first time I'd played that many games in a row - was definitely frustrating," White said.
But White was also mindful he'd been far luckier than former Geelong VFL footballer Casey Tutungi, who'd been left a paraplegic after fracturing his C4 and C5 vertebrae playing for South Barwon in a Geelong Football League game barely a month earlier.
Knowing he had Carlton in his corner as he embarked on his rehabilitation also lifted White's spirits.
"All the way along the club has shown faith in me," White said.
"I've had quite a few injuries through my career and, especially with something as serious as the neck, it was nice of them to show that faith and keep me on.
"But I've still got things to work on like everyone else. I'll keep working on those now."
After being cleared to remove the full neck brace after eight weeks, White had to wear a neck collar for another four weeks, only getting the all-clear to remove it on the morning of the Blues' best and fairest count in October.
As he eyes 2014, White is buoyed knowing he should complete most of the Blues' pre-season. The 2013 pre-season was the first he'd completed in his career and he credits it for his career-best form this year.
White, 190cm, played mostly as the Blues' third tall defender this year and sees himself playing a similar role in 2014, especially with Lachie Henderson likely to spend time in attack again.
As for his neck, White says it is still a little stiff, but not a concern.
"Every now and then it will just feel like I've slept a bit funny," he says.
"But I've been pretty lucky with the way it's all come through."
White is not concerned he'll carry any mental scars when he returns to the field either.
He says he wasn't trying to draw a free kick when he ducked against Box Hill, merely to avoid his opponent's tackle. But he admits he would approach the same situation differently next time.
"At the end of the day my decision could have been ended up causing me a much worse injury," White says.
"You've just got to weigh up the risks of putting your head down in those sort of situations. I think most players know now that you've really got to stand up in those situations.
"But going into that situation again, I don't think it's going to frighten me putting my head over the ball."