After an illustrious career that featured three Olympics and two Commonwealth Games gold medals, Casey Sablowski has called time on her career, for a second time.
The Albion Park athlete initially stepped away from hockey after the Rio Olympics to start a family, before an official retirement was announced in 2018 due to chronic knee injuries. Having had a second son in March, Sablowski launched a comeback bid.
With a place in the NSW Pride side for the inaugural Hockey One League the initial goal, Sablowski spent six months training in an attempt to make the team.
The hard work paid off and she made a return to elite hockey in the Pride's round one clash with Adelaide.
While playing in the Hockey One was Sablowski's short-term goal, she also held the long-term goal of making a push for selection in Australia's Olympic team.
Sablowski was able to play at a high level for NSW, however she said the toll the competition took on her body proved too much.
"This is the end for me," Sablowski said. "I was going to leave the door open for national selection, depending on how this tournament went, it was a good test to see how my body held up if I wanted to do it.
"My mind would love to do it, but my body's just saying, 'that's it'.
"I knew my knee would be my biggest challenge. I was working closely with Baimed for six months trying to get my knee right and I probably needed a little bit longer to get ready.
"I made it and I was able to play most of the minutes, but I was probably only able to function at 80 per cent due to the amount of swelling I'd had prior, during and immediately after games. I was doing everything I could, icing, rest, anti-inflammatories.
"I'm really excited now that I've had a crack and it hasn't worked out to move on to the next chapter. Spending time with my boys, having some normality with my life and being able to work in a normal, consistent role."
The retirement officially ends an illustrious career for one of the Illawarra's finest hockey products, with Sablowski's talents clear from an early age.
She made her Australian debut at the age of just 17, going on to represent her country 258 times. She competed at the Beijing, London and Rio Olympics and won gold at both the Delhi and Glasgow Commonwealth Games.
Sablowski enters her second retirement with a very different mindset to the first, with the athlete experiencing a feeling of what-if when she first called it a day.
This time there are no regrets, with Sablowski pleased she did all she could to return to the national league.
"It was always in the back of my mind when I originally retired. I retired largely due to my body, I always did think I could have a comeback after my first son, but I was in a different headspace. He was a difficult baby, which made it challenging.
"After I had (eldest son) Harvey, the main factor in my retirement was my knees had had enough. Trying to play club hockey, they were swelling quite substantially.
"But I thought I didn't go through the rehab, I didn't do all the right things I should have, which is why after (second son) Lewis I had the goal to see if I could get back. I had discussions with the guys at Baimed and they were pretty optimistic, it was a challenge for them as well.
"I got back to that level again, but I would have liked to be able to perform a little better, at a higher intensity, but my movement was inhibited by the swelling.
"I felt like I needed to give it a crack to see if I could do it and I feel like I gave it everything in the time I had."
Sablowski's desire to feature in the Hockey One was not purely about her personal desire to potentially wear the green and gold again. She was also determined to play at a high level in front of her children.
Having achieved that goal, Sablowski is hopeful she inspired women and mothers to chase their dreams.
"It was really good playing in front of the boys," Sablowski said. "They came to the first home match and it was great.
"For me, one of the biggest things about this comeback post-children was to prove you can do anything you put your mind to if you put in the hard work.
"Part of my comeback was for them, not for them now, they won't understand the sacrifices at this age, but when they start to grow up, hopefully they'll appreciate it a bit more, especially as they follow their sporting paths."
Sablowski may no longer be playing hockey, but she will remain involved in the sport as a coach. She will also continue primary school teaching and run a series of hockey camps.
While her playing days are over, Sablowski's looking forward to pursuing new passions with her family in the coming years.
"I'm doing a bit of coaching through Hockey NSW at the moment and I'm going to run some of my own camps in January in Wollongong and on the Central Coast.
"I'll also continue teaching next year, a couple of days a week as a casual at the local primary school, which will keep me busy.
"I'm someone that I feel like I need balance. Working in hockey and also teaching breaks it up and allows me to continue to do things I'm passionate about without feeling overrun."
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