‘I was pretty much stuck on the couch for a month’: Why Christian Salem is hell-bent on bouncing back

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In his past three finals, Christian Salem has not had his usual influence.

He had eight kicks against Collingwood in the qualifying final and didn’t top that figure in the Demons’ two finals losses last season.

Salem hasn’t lost his talent but in the past two seasons his piercing left foot has not caused the same damage it once did.

After a frustrating couple of years Christian Salem only has his eyes on one prize. Credit: Getty Images

Last year it was a knee injury suffered in round one that derailed his season as he came off a premiership, All-Australian squad selection, a vote in the Norm Smith Medal and fourth place in the club’s best and fairest the year before.

This year the football gods doubled down, with a thyroid concern emerging in February, leaving Salem stuck on the couch for a month and a subsequent meniscus tear just ahead of his return via the VFL leaving him stuck on the runway.

His overactive thyroid – the gland that regulates body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure and digestion – grounded him.

A trip from the couch to get a drink of water would see his heart rate shoot up to 120 beats per minute, and it wasn’t because a glass of water got him excited.

“I ended up losing four or five kilos when my thyroid played up, and I was pretty much stuck on the couch for a month, monitoring my heart rate … [with] regular blood tests each week,” Salem said.

He had experienced the issue in 2016 but it did not make its reemergence any easier to manage, with the 28-year-old admitting his frustration grew as he whiled away the hours.

Salem, generally a relaxed character, also acknowledged a degree of anxiety crept in as he contemplated the potential impact of his diagnosis.

“You can imagine playing a game of football [and] you think of the thyroid risk, but it’s the heart risk as well,” Salem said.

“That is all part of it. You just have to embrace it. It is all going good now, and I just have to keep on the medication and keep it under control.

“[I’m] lucky to have a strong family and partner behind me [who] were able to support me through that and keep me sane I guess, because you lose your mind a bit at the opening of the season sitting on the couch.”

Salem did not return to the AFL until round 10, now having played just one game in the first nine rounds of the past two seasons, not only playing behind the ball but, in 2022 and 2023, behind the eight-ball.

Salem accepts his lot, however, as he knows his teammates need him and his ball use as they look to avoid consecutive straight sets exits against Carlton on Friday night.

Christian Petracca, Simon Goodwin and Christian Salem celebrate a win during their premiership season.Credit: AFL Photos

He is ready to do whatever is required to contribute to a back seven that includes key talls Jake Lever and Steven May, veteran Michael Hibberd, Salem, and emerging youngsters Judd McVee, Brett Bowey and Trent Rivers.

He can have a quiet word if required, and is loud when necessary on the field.

“We set high standards of each other … we all demand of each other and demand high levels of performance effort, whether it’s Judd, or Maysy, or Jake,” Salem said.

Off the field, he is less intense, chuckling at the memories of travelling through Europe in 2019 with his friends, Christian Petracca and Clayton Oliver, missing flights, sleeping in less than salubrious surroundings, and watching his beloved Arsenal live.

“It is a strong bond we will always have,” Salem said. “[We’ve] done a few trips together [and are] still close, no matter what the situation is, and we are just pretty lucky, I guess. We get to come in here every day and enjoy the company of not only those boys but the other 30, 40 boys in there as well.”

Whether that enjoyment is interrupted on Friday night or continues for at least another week depends on how the Demons perform against Carlton, a team they had beaten eight times in a row before losing the round 22 thriller.

Watching a couple of Christians taking on the Lions in a preliminary final is what Melbourne fans want, and Salem is ready to put any frustration behind him and perform to his best on Friday night.

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