An Interview With Andrew Willett

Posted on: 13 June 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

Former Australian rugby international Andrew Willett has had more success with injuries off the field than he did on the pitch

Two broken collarbones, a snapped Achilles, plastic surgery, a broken arm, knee surgery, muscle tears and dozens of stitches: Andrew Willett is in his own words “injury prone”.

Born and raised in Sydney, Australia, Andrew grew up in love with rugby but at a time when the sport was in a transitional phase.

Making his debut at fly-half as a 20-year-old for New South Wales he was one of a few players who made their break through at the back end of the amateur era back in 1995.

That year rugby turned professional and Andrew raised a few eye-brows by turning down a full-time contract.

Instead, he wanted to combine his career in financial markets with rugby.

Andrew simultaneously worked as a financial markets trader for eight years where he was treasury manager, foreign exchange and media representative.

In October 2001, he left Sydney to pursue a scholarship at Oxford University, studying on the MBA programme.

Today, the 37-year-old is chief executive of Pure Sports Medicine, an idea he came up with during his time at Oxford.

Andrew admits he wasn’t put together quite right – where rugby went, injuries followed in a frustrating an hampered career spanning New South Wales, Australian Sevens and Barbarians teams as well as Oxford University caps.

Two weeks into his MBA at Oxford, playing for the university side, Andrew snapped his Achilles tendon.

Dismayed by the treatment he received, Andrew phoned home to speak to his former director of rugby Brett Robinson in Australia to discuss his rehabilitation.

After being told to go under the knife immediately, Andrew failed to find anyone in the public system willing to do the operation.

“I was quite shocked to be honest. After the injury I asked everyone, ‘where’s the nearest sports medicine centre?’, and they all just seemed to look at me blankly."

“I couldn’t quite believe that the UK had nothing of the sort available. It surprised as much as angered me and that’s where the whole idea came from,” says Andrew."

Andrew Willett injuryAs part of his university studies Andrew and a couple of his fellow students decided to focus a project around a brand new sports medicine centre in the UK, a first of its kind.

The project was a hit and soon enough the idea was rolling into reality.

“We decided to give it a go. It was pretty risky but we believed it was important to have a service like that."

“Back in Australia, everywhere has a sports medicine centre – I knew it could work but when you start any business there is a huge element of risk."

“We had to find a doctor; we couldn’t do it on our own."

“In medicine everything relies on reputation, we didn’t have a reputation but we slowly built up our network of contacts and we gradually became recognised as a quality centre for sports injuries."

“One of the guys from my days at Oxford still works here, we’ve grown an awful lot since then and the business has really been a great success.”

Pure Sports Medicine now has over 50 full time employees and has been almost doubling in size every year.

They are the largest and most comprehensive sports medicine centre in the UK, and now deal with more than just sporting injuries, as Andrew explains.

“We deal with almost everything – enhancing performance for elite and grass roots level athletes, rehabilitation – we even have a woman in her 70’s coming to us."

“We’re open to all and everything; we’ve got the facilities and trained doctors to deal with almost anything."

“We’re a team of sports medicine specialists; doctors, physiotherapists, therapist, podiatrists, physical trainers and relation therapists whose aim is to fill a specific need for expert care in their field – all in one practice."

“90% of sports injuries don’t require surgery so there’s so much more to our work than dealing with operations.”

Pure Sports Medicine now experiences a wide patient demographic; from Premiership football players and Olympic athletes, to recreational runners and the non-exercising individuals.

Recent clients at PSM include Fulham and Charlton Football Club’s; Prremier League footballers from Tottenham, Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Portsmouth and Manchester City; Soccer Australia; the Ministry of Defence, European Tour golfers; England and Scotland international rugby players; London Wasps; London Irish; Bath, Harlequins and the British and Irish Lions rugby clubs; cricketers from Derbyshire Essex, Hampshire, Kent and Surrey; the New Zealand and Indian international cricket teams; Great Britain Olympic athletes; Oxford University students; and even the Spice Girls, because as Andrew explains, performing also cause injuries.

“A couple of them needed to come to the clinic. Singers and dancers are very much like athletes, because they need to go out there and perform and they also get injuries.  Dance can lead to high trauma on some parts of the body but they were a pleasure to deal with."

“Nevertheless we treat everyone in the same way, whether you’re a Spice Girl, an England rugby player or just a typical guy on the street.”

Andrew Willett todayPure Sports Medicine is a specialist sports medicine practice dedicated to the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of sports injuries and musculoskeletal problems – and the enhancement of performance.

For further information visit the Pure Sports Medicine website or call 08447 700 800 to make an appointment.

Pure Sports Medicine have two centres in London - Threadneedle Street in the city and Cromwell Road, Kensington.

By Mark O'Haire

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