The 27-year-old Melbournian threw a “B qualifier” distance at a meet in Townsville earlier this month, “90% guaranteeing” her seat on the plane to Rio, with an official announcement expected in early July.
Hogan – who was born without the lower half of her left arm and competes in the F46 class – tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her right knee six days before the Paralympic World Championships in Doha in October – seemingly shattering her dreams of competing in Brazil – after taking bronze in London in 2012 and Beijing in 2008 and gold at the 2011 World Championships.
The 2015 injury, in training in Doha in front of several of her biggest rivals, came after Hogan also missed the 2013 World Championships, due to an ACL tear in her left knee.
“I like to make a joke of the fact that I’ve medalled at every major competition I’ve been to – it’s just that I blew out ACLs at the other two,” self-deprecating Hogan, who trains with respected coach and Paralympian John Eden at the Victorian Institute of Sport, said.
In the fog of disappointment late last year, Hogan thought “long and hard” about retiring, even giving her favourite javelins to her coach, but she eventually decided to try a cadaver operation – where a ligament from a corpse is implanted in the knee – rather than a traditional knee reconstruction.
Hogan – who played state-level able-bodied cricket before being talent identified for Paralympic sport – said once she’d decided on the fast track option in an effort to qualify for Rio, she was “all in”.
“I bloody well love proving people wrong – I think because with a disability you have to do that your whole life – so once I’d set my mind to trying to qualify, I was focused.”
Hogan had the surgery in early November and was back “on the runway” running in January. She felt good going into Townsville, her last chance to throw a “decent distance” and catch the eye of selectors.
“In the week leading up to the meet, I was definitely quite nervous about how the knee would hold up, but I always enjoy competing in north Queensland, because it’s such a relaxed atmosphere. I was feeling fresh going in, because we’ve been really strategic with my training,” Hogan, who is studying exercise and sport science at Deakin University, said.
“As soon as I had my first throw, I starting enjoying it. At one point, I thought ‘right, let’s go smack out a world record’, but there was a little voice telling me, ‘hang on, wait, do what you need to do today’ and that’s what I did. It was awesome to throw a qualifier, it felt easy. It’s exciting of course, but I’m nervous too.”
The knee is still painful, stiff and requires constant icing and compression. “It’s a continuous loop of icing and trying to get the swelling out, but even though I have had split seconds where I’ve been waiting for that ‘pop’ – and I know exactly what that feels like – the more sessions I do, the more my confidence grows. I find myself thinking less and less about the knee and more about my technique, which is how it should be,” she said.
Hogan, who is training six days a week, expects a phone call in early July to tell her she’s on the team and in August, to fly to the US for a team training camp ahead of the Games, which begin in early September, after the Olympics.
“The Games really aren’t that far away. In the gym at the VIS there’s a countdown clock, a big bright red thing and it’s the first thing you see when you walk through the door. At the start, it was a big novelty for everyone, but now it’s ticked under 100 days, I’m like ‘eff off clock just go away already!’ This is really happening,” she said.
Is a medal on the cards? “My number one goal was to make the team and I think I have pretty much ticked that box. Now, I need to set my sights higher. Maybe it’s not necessarily to win a medal, but it’s to be in the mix with the best four throwers … I know I am capable of that. But I also know, better than anyone I guess, that things can wrong in an instant and that’s something I try not to think about too much,” Hogan said.
“I wouldn’t be me if I wasn’t looking at my competitors on the day thinking ‘I’m gonna beat you’, that’s just who I am. And gee, a gold medal would be nice, wouldn’t it?”