AT the lowest point of her darkest summer, Lauren Jackson was ready to retire from the sport she has dominated for more than a decade.
Australia’s greatest basketballer and London Olympic Games flag-bearer was all but beaten by a chronic hamstring injury and she struggled to summon the energy to fight another day.
The four-time Olympic medallist’s career is back on track after she underwent surgery in January to repair her damaged hamstring, but she is still taking baby steps.
Revealing the depths of her despair in an interview with the Newcastle Herald yesterday, Jackson said she had no plans to play again until returning for Seattle Storm in the 2014 Women’s National Basketball Association season.
The 31-year-old two-time WNBA champion, three-time Most Valuable Player and seven-time All-Star was at Hunter Stadium on Tuesday, where she was unveiled as the first ambassador for the Special Olympics 2013 Asia Pacific Games to be held in Newcastle in December.
‘‘In terms of frustrating injuries, this was the closest I got to retiring, because I actually could not run. It was a nerve injury, so there was no way I would be able to run without surgery, so in hindsight, I probably should have had surgery a hell of a lot earlier but I didn’t,’’ Jackson said.
‘‘I tried to do it conservatively, but when they went in there, they found so much stuff it would have been impossible for me to come back. But the good thing is, I’m able to have this break.
‘‘It was taxing emotionally too, so I’ll be back bigger and better next year, I’m sure. For the first time in three years, I’m waking up feeling good – well, it’s the first time in my whole career I’ve woken up feeling this good – so I’m completely hamstring-pain-free.
‘‘I’m running up hills, doing everything I can, pain-free, so it’s brilliant. I feel good.’’
Physically and emotionally exhausted after a frustrating Olympic campaign with the Opals ended in bronze, Jackson tried to play the Women’s National Basketball League season for Canberra Capitals but pulled the pin after a series of injections failed to ease her pain.
The Capitals want her to play the 2013-14 WNBL season, and there is always the lure of Europe, but right now Jackson is happy to write off the next 12 months to ensure she is fully recovered for her scheduled return for Seattle in May next year.
‘‘Last year was the craziest year of my life, because I had the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, and like I said, it got to a point where I was like, ‘I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to play again’, because the injury was like nothing I’ve ever had before,’’ she said.
‘‘I’ve played with a broken back, broken ankles, broken fingers and toes, but I couldn’t actually play, and that was the one thing where for the first time in my career I’m like, ‘Damn, I’m really not invincible like I thought I was’.
‘‘So I had to change my mindset a lot and come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t going to be playing forever and this injury, I think I had over 40 injections all up, it was just a nightmare.
‘‘But [Western Bulldogs AFL doctor] David Young, what an amazing surgeon. He definitely saved my career, so I’m in debt to him.
‘‘I’m not pushing to come back for the Caps next season, or to go to Europe or anything.
‘‘At the moment, my goal is to be ready for the  WNBA season, so when I say ready, it means fit and ready to go. That’s basically my aim, so whatever happens before that is going to be a bonus.
‘‘It’s been an emotional roller-coaster that has finally stopped – and I feel good.’’