As Hayley Raso lay in a Washington DC hospital in August 2018 following a horror back injury suffered while playing in the National Women’s Soccer League, there was one person she looked to for inspiration – her big brother, Lachlan.
Not knowing if she would walk again — let alone play — after breaking three vertebrae, the Matildas star drew strength from Lachlan, who three years earlier underwent open-heart surgery.
“He was just 23 years old and seeing him go through that and how he’s recovered and come out of it even stronger, definitely inspired me to do the same,” Hayley said.
Lachlan, now 29, was born with a rare congenital heart defect.
His courage and determination were traits his little sister also displayed during a gruelling rehabilitation and recovery journey, especially when she needed to relearn how to walk.
“I remember when I was in hospital, I’d continually tell myself ‘you need to get back so you can go to the World Cup and go to the Olympics,'” she said.
In 2019, fully recovered, Hayley played in her first World Cup, in France.
Now, she’s set to fulfil her other long-life ambition of representing Australia at her maiden Olympics.
“I’m over the moon, I’m really proud of myself for achieving a dream I worked hard for,” she said.
Lachlan Raso is equally proud of his little sister.
“I know this kind of sounds bad but if it [the back injury] were to happen to anyone, then Hayley was probably the best person for it to happen to,” he said.
“Her character and determination, I knew she’d come out of it stronger.”
It’s clear the siblings share a bond.
Hayley is in Sweden in a pre-Olympic camp with the Matildas. She took time out to speak to ABC Sport about her new role as an ambassador for HeartKids.
“It’s something that’s close to my heart because of what Lachlan went through when he was younger,” she said.
“I’m here to help in any way I can to raise awareness.”
A ‘pretty scary’ time
Hayley grew up on the Gold Coast with two older brothers, raised by their mother, Renaye.
Her eldest brother Jordan has a severe intellectual disability.
When Lachlan was six weeks old, he suddenly turned blue. When he was four, he was officially diagnosed with congenital heart disease.
“The doctors found I had a hole in my heart,” Lachlan said.
“It was much scarier for mum than it was for me, I was pretty young.”
In 2014, Lachlan received another diagnosis of partial anomalous pulmonary venous drainage (PAPVD), a deadly and rare congenital heart defect. He underwent open-heart surgery the following year.
“That was pretty scary, I was really worried about having the operation,” Lachlan said.
But even during that extremely difficult time, Hayley could recall a beautiful moment.
“It just shows his caring nature and him putting other people first.”
Hayley said her lionhearted brother was equally protective towards her.
“He was so strong and brave throughout the whole time and I still remember him saying to me: ‘don’t worry, when I get out of my rehab in my recovery, I just want to be watching your football games,'” she said.
“That was so lovely of him to put me first.”
Around one in 100 babies are born with a congenital heart defect — the biggest killer in Australian children aged under one.
There is no cure, but those diagnosed with the disease can go on to live full lives.
A tight-knit team
Lachlan said he leads a normal and active life, working as a civil engineer. He has regular check-ups and ultrasounds to monitor his condition.
“I feel perfectly fine, I play indoor soccer,” he said.
“I just have a few scars on my chest.”
Lachlan said he wouldn’t have coped without the love and support of his family.
“They mean the world to me,” he said.
“Mum was working three jobs to give all three of us opportunities.”
Renaye would also spend several hours a week driving Hayley to soccer matches when she was younger.
She flew to Washington DC to be with Hayley after her injury in 2018, and stayed with her during the rehabilitation.
“My oldest brother is disabled, Lachlan went through his open-heart surgery and I went through my back injury and mum’s been the rock through it all,” Hayley said.
Renaye said her children inspired her.
“I’m in awe of them, they’ve been through so much,” she said.
She said raising a child with a severe disability helped her two younger children become more caring, empathic adults.
“Lachlan and Hayley love their elder brother so much and he loves them,” she said.
“Jordan would love to have had the choice to play sport or have a great job.
Kicking goals — lots of them
Hayley marked her return to the Matildas six months after her back injury by scoring three minutes after getting on the field in the game against New Zealand.
“The whole time I was in hospital, I was thinking about getting back to the Matildas and playing for my country again,” she said.
“When I stepped back onto the field and scored, it was all worth it.”
Renaye wasn’t surprised by her daughter’s fighting spirit — it’s literally engraved on her.
“Hayley’s got a tattoo on her foot which says, ‘don’t look back’ and that was something that I always said to her from a really young age,” Renaye said.
As the Olympics near, Hayley is coming off some superb form, having scored a hat-trick for Everton in the English Women’s Super League in March.
A tough Olympic draw
Australia opens its Olympics campaign against New Zealand on July 21. It’s a tough group, also including the world number five and reigning Olympic silver medallists, Sweden, and defending World Champions, the USA.
Hayley said the team wasn’t fazed.
“We’re just focusing on our first game against New Zealand as there’s a big rivalry between us,” she said.
“Hopefully, we get a win and then we’ll focus on each game as it comes.”
Back home, Hayley’s family will be watching and cheering.
“It’s very special watching her play,” Lachlan said.
“Even though she’s my little sister, I look up to her.”
Jordan doesn’t fully comprehend the enormity of his younger sister representing her country.
“To him, she just plays soccer,” Renaye said
But he knows one thing for sure.
“She’s too fast,” he told his mum.