How Bandits pitcher survived terrifying bush ordeal
A groggy Loek van Mil, in the bush and in the dark, could hear kangaroos landing precariously close to his head when he finally came to.
The injured Brisbane Bandits baseball pitcher couldn't see them, what with the blood in his eyes from the 14 skull fractures suffered when he fell and hit his head on rocks.
Nine hours unconscious after his bushwalk-gone-wrong outside Canberra on December 9, where the Bandits had played a game without him, van Mil was unsure of his injuries, but knew he was isolated and in trouble.
For one thing, he didn't know in which direction his escape could be and found eventually that his phone had a flat battery, so he was on his own.
"I was lucky I didn't walk into a tree, or that a snake bit me,'' he said.
Instead, at 5am, about three hours after he regained consciousness, the 34-year-old came across a Canberra woman who found him, staggering through bushland, while she was hiking.
"I was very lucky I ran into her,'' he said.
"When the sun started to come up, I was freaking out because I had blood on my hands and shirt but I didn't feel any pain.
"It was very special that she stopped for a seven-foot (216cm) stranger with blood all over him. It's great that people like that exist.
"She took me to her home, 10 minutes or so away. I was able to wash and she gave me some clean clothes. Then she drove me to the hospital.''
There, Van Mil was admitted in a critical condition and Bandits CEO Mark Ready says his condition was "touch and go'' for a while.
"The CT scan showed I had 14 fractures between my temples and I had a ruptured ear drum. I had four haemorrhages,'' he said.
Safe and fully recovered seven weeks later, van Mil adds quickly: "They're all gone.''
The Dutch international explains that when trying to climb up onto a rock on his relaxing walk when a piece of granite "broke off'' under his weight.
After six days in the Canberra hospital, van Mil was released with a bill of health clean enough that he could fly back to Brisbane that day with two very black eyes.
"I was cleared to play (in early January) by a neurosurgeon here and one in Canberra, who got together with my GP, and everyone close to me trusts them,'' he said.
Van Mil said he wants to repay the Bandits for their support of him by helping them win a fourth straight Claxton Shield in a series which starts in Perth on Thursday.
"When I woke up in the hospital, Mark (Ready) was talking to me,'' he said.
"He literally stood by my bedside for five days. The support from all my teammates … it's why I wanted to play again for them and help them win.''
Since his tentative comeback match on January 17, Van Mil, a specialist relief pitcher, has thrown in three games only, but was the winning pitcher in Brisbane's deciding win over Canberra last Sunday.
Bandits coach David Nilsson said van Mil, the tallest professional pitcher in the world, will be used in the championship series.
Nilsson said it would have been understandable had van Mil felt disinclined to play, especially at a club he had just joined in November.
"It speaks to his character that he stayed the course and more power to him,'' Nilsson said.