It was the kind of life-threatening injury that could have ended his sporting dreams. Instead, it spurred on athlete James Connor to his most successful season.
In September 2012, Connor was smashed over the head with a pool cue while trying to break up a brawl that erupted at his local pub in Campbelltown.
He suffered two brain haemorrhages and surgeons used 31 staples to repair his fractured skull.
As horrific as it was, Connor knows he had a lucky escape – just two months earlier, teenager Thomas Kelly had been killed by a king hit in Kings Cross.
Connor, then aged 20, was a talented distance runner who had competed at state, national and international levels. The assault – for which his assailant was jailed for 12 months – forced him to take three months off from running.
"It's very easy – when something like that happens – to fall off the rails and not come back,'' said Connor, who is preparing to run the Sun-Herald City2Surf, presented by Westpac.
"It was a massive disruption to training. Running for me is a drug. There's nothing else in life that can replicate that feeling of just going for a run and having that taken away from you when it's such a big part of your life – it's pretty tough – but I think you have to go through the tough times to get to the good times. I'm stronger for it.''
In 2013, two months after he resumed training, Connor won the NSW 5000-metre championship. He also came second in the NSW Cross Country Championships and fourth in the Sydney Morning Herald Half Marathon.
"I shocked myself, my coach, my family,'' the teaching student said. "It really cemented in my mind what I wanted to do.''
His coach, James Fitzgerald, said Connor's near-death experience filled him with "more desire and drive ... than he'd had since he was a midget''. "Everything he does, he does it with purpose and conviction,'' Fitzgerald said.
Connor aims to compete at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast and the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, and is part of Adidas's adiRunner program.
Connor was also inspired by the fact that champion distance runner Craig Mottram would be running the City2Surf.
"Craig's done some amazing things in running,'' he said. "If I can [finish] anywhere near him I'd be absolutely thrilled. I'm relishing the opportunity to see him on the start line.''