When Jake Ryan underwent surgery immediately after the Bali bombings in October, 2002, he had no anaesthetic.
"That was the worst experience of my life," he said.
"I know what pain really is after that. I was ready to pass out but was so scared of never waking up again, I hung in there.
"I had seen all the death and destruction, I didn't want to be another body.
'I remember halfway through, I was there in the room, but wasn't really, I could feel their hands in me. All of the sudden I had this pain in my leg. They showed me a piece of bone the size of a 50c piece they pulled out. It wasn't mine, but someone else's."
The Bali bombings changed Australia's thinking. Terrorism was on our doorstep.
Two-hundred and two people died, while 209 were injured.
"I saw some very ordinary things, people missing limbs trying to escape, being burnt to death etc. I think when I went back to the front of the club to look for my brother (Mitch), there was no road or pavement. I was literally standing on dead bodies. They were also burning hot as the fire was raging. That stays with me definitely," he said.
It was the longest night of Ryan's life.
"I remember standing out the front of the club watching it burn down and just hoping Mitch got out. I was thinking, 'how do I go home to mum and dad without him'? That was tough, and I didn't know he was safe until the next day, so went through my op praying he was OK," he said.
"I remember before going in to the op theatre in Bali and thinking if this is it?
"Thinking of my family, my gran, my dogs, my mates, I'd tried my hardest with my footy, I thought about my funeral, what songs they would play, who would carry me out, how many would be there. I thought a lot would turn up, mum and dad would have to book the town hall out and that made me feel calm, believe it or not. I felt like I had had a crack. It was really cathartic facing your mortality at 21."
Ryan suffered severe stomach and foot injuries, with doctors forced to chop off his right heel as it was "just flapping".
Bali drives him every day and the Ovens and Murray Football League saw that when one of its most ferocious competitors spent two glorious years at Corowa-Rutherglen in 2007-08.
In his debut year, the muscular midfielder won best-on-ground in five of the first six games to bolt to the lead in the Morris Medal.
A shoulder injury ended his season in round 12 and Ryan missed the last six games. Remarkably, he still finished third in the league best and fairest to Wangaratta on-baller Jon McCormick.
"I was never in the same class of a Jon McCormick, Craig Ednie or Matty Shir but I did the work to be able to give myself a chance to compete," he said.
"I was lucky with my time at Sandringham, I did a pre-season at Melbourne and watched and followed Shane Woewodin all summer. He was the epitome of that. Just did more work than everyone and he won a Brownlow. Good lessons as a young fella."
A Gold Coast product, Ryan had chased his AFL dream to Sandringham in 2000-2001, along with a year on Geelong's supplementary list.
But the big time never came calling.
"Quite simply, I was not good enough. I was small, not explosive pace and not great penetration with my kick. I also went to Geelong the same year as Gaz (Gary Ablett), (Jimmy) Bartel, (Josh) Kelly, Stevie J (Steve Johnson), Andy Carrazzo, Corey Enright, Joel Corey, a lot of good on-ballers. I went from a starting on-baller at 'Sandy' to a back pocket at the Cats. I was watching these kids coming through thinking, 'geez, these kids are freaks'. History shows they were. I was lucky I can say I played a few games with the greatest we will ever see in Gaz Jr," he said.
It certainly didn't diminish his passion though, spending the next three years at Subiaco under Peter German, who he credits with teaching him everything about the game.
"'Germo' was such a huge influence on myself, the boys who played under him and the ongoing success of the Subiaco Football club," Ryan offered
"He was ahead of his time around creating a culture and an environment of continued improvement and an expectation of winning.
"He was very hard and very hard on me, but also a bloody good man.
"'Germo' and wife Cath would have you over for dinner, but he wouldn't miss you and neither would Cath. She would give you a clip as well when you got in the rooms after the game (laughs). But look at 'Germo's' results, they speak for themselves. He had an amazing game plan with a huge emphasis on defensive running and tackling, smart ball use out of the backline and really attacking mid and forward lines. Players like Matt Priddis (2014 Brownlow medallist) talk of him and what they learnt. I was no different."
The Roos were next and a two-year love affair with the league.
After the disappointment of the shoulder injury in 2007, Ryan set himself for a monster pre-season.
"I remember being in Brazil on Christmas Day on a boys' trip and punishing myself before we went out because I was really determined to come back and have an impact," he said.
It worked. He equalled five-time Morris medallist Rob Walker's 1991 record (and still is) of 31 votes, cruising home by 10.
"I was really proud. I owed so many people a thank you and appreciation for all the support and that felt like a little win. It was as good as my body had been since the bombing, the shoulder injury the year before had allowed me a really big lead up," he said.
"(Coach) Peter Tossol was such a big 'in' for the club and one of my most respected humans. He was brilliant. 'Rainsey' (Nick Raines) was fantastic, Sammy Carps (Sam Carpenter) came in and we were firing as a midfield. None of it would have happened without those guys. After Bali and the challenges of getting myself right, it was a really special night in my life."
Ryan played with such frenetic passion, he was public enemy number one for all oppositions fans.
"(Laughs), Yeah, I got feedback often. Wodonga was pretty good. The crowd at Albury gave me a fair serve one day as well. All good fun. I knew if I was getting a spray I was getting a kick," he laughed.
"I definitely played with an edge, I think that came from being a product of your environment. I grew up with two brothers where we were ultracompetitive in everything. Football was the number one, two and three most important things in our household. I was always the smallest but always played in age groups above so was always fighting out of my weight class and was playing senior footy at 15. Dad was always big on sticking up for yourself and never give anyone something over you, so I think all those things combined, and what it meant to me to play and compete made me ultracompetitive. I'm a pretty energetic person in general so I just loved playing and loved having a crack. I worked really hard on my game and it meant a lot to me.
"I had great confidence in the work I had done in preparation so I would just get into my rhythm game day and go with it. I was very habitual in my prep, so sleep, food, music etc were always consistent. I liked being early, getting strapped and a long warm up. That allowed to play my best football.
"I had (an insatiable) belief purely because of the work I had done in preparation. I was nowhere near the most talented at any stage of my footy compared to others, but I outworked most and that's what gave me the confidence to play. Mum and dad were always strong on if you want something it's achievable, but you need to do the work and if it didn't work, find another way and work harder. That's definitely set my life up and I used that in my footy and now in professional and personal life."
There was one memorable moment though when Ryan didn't prepare so meticulously.
It was in a Denpasar courtroom in June 2003 and Ryan fronted the (then) alleged field commander responsible for the Bali bombings and let fly.
"You're a f***ing dog, mate, you're going to die, you f**k."
"I was hungover, hot and sweaty, he had been abusing survivors and families of people who didn't come home who were in the docks. He put his arms up and locked eyes with me and started yelling. I just flipped and went for him. That's what happens when you have poor preparation, you get into trouble (laughs). Fair to say I was taken out of the trial after that."
The now 39-year-old had another scare in 2011.
"I had a desmoid tumour, which is quite rare. Adam Ramanauskas had a similar one. He operated on his where I didn't and went through the radiation. It grows roots and had wrapped itself around my arm, it was killing my arm and. worse case, they were going to cut it off. Thank God the treatment worked," he said.
Ryan also worked as an academy and development line coach with the Gold Coast Suns from 2013-2016.
"It was such an amazing learning experience. My only regret about being overseas is that I left that level and education behind. I was very lucky to work with the kids through the academy who ended up on lists. Lachie Weller was my boy and love watching him go now. It was great fun and stimulating," he said enthusiastically.
Ryan moved to the US in 2016, coaching the Golden Gate Roos and winning a national title last year.
"It was such a contrast coming from the Suns to trying to teach Americans how to hold a footy two weeks later. I think it's the most enjoyable thing I've done. The 'Yanks' have such a passion for our game. But there's always someone you played against back home floating around. I'm in Miami and had a kick the other day with the side in Fort Lauderdale and this bloke comes up and asked if I played with Corowa? He was from Myrtleford and played at Whorouly." he said.
"I work in prop tech (property technology) now, looking at future revenues and businesses attached to the home buying cycle. Mortgage, insurance, warranty etc and how does that tie into a home purchase. Some cool stuff and I love it. I thought I was an OK leader but coming to another country and dealing and leading teams with people from different cultures has made me so much more well rounded. I travel a lot and love what I do. I'm off to Tulum in Mexico for the next month."
It's a good life, one of his best mates works for the UFC, so Ryan was front row at a Connor McGregor fight with Mike Tyson. He's also hung out with John Cena at WrestleMania.
IN OTHER NEWS:
It sounds like the Life of Riley, and looks that way too on his Instagram page, but one of his favourite moments was closer to home last year.
"I flew home to watch my old club Surfers Paradise win the QAFL flag. I was grabbed and hugged from behind by Billy Hardy Sr, his son (Billy) was on my trip to Bali and passed away. He said to me, 'I love watching what you are up to on insta etc. You are living the life'. We hugged and cried and that meant more to me than everything else."