When Australian rower John Linke found out that his rowing days would cease while he underwent surgery he decided to share his story of recovery through YouTube video clips by calling on the help of media producer at the Victoria Institute of Sport, Lachlan McKinnon.
Linke was in the Australian men's eight that finished fourth at the 2011 World Rowing Championships and thus qualified for the London Olympic Games. Then, in Linke's words, he was 'cursed' by a condition called popliteal artery entrapment syndrome. This began during his 2011 season and it took him out of rowing and into the operating room.  

"It is very rare," Linke begins to explain. "It is a problem encountered mostly in the case of elite athletes as a result of large volumes of training and calf hypertrophy (enlargement). The problem arises when the popliteal artery supplying the blood below your knee becomes pinched closed during calf contraction. This results in a lack of blood and oxygen being supplied to the lower leg and thus causes severe pain."

Unsinkable promo 1
Follow John Linke on the road to recovery with the YouTube series ‘Unsinkable’

McKinnon understands that this is the first case of popliteal artery entrapment syndrome among rowers in Australia. A certain percentage of the population is predisposed to the syndrome but most remain unaffected as it is only elite athletes that potentially push their bodies to the lengths that can cause it.

Linke has undergone five leg operations each intended to allow the continued supply of blood to the lower leg when the calf is contracted. "The reason for the total of five operations is that each time the surgeons have attempted to solve the problem it has been unsuccessful. The most recent surgery is by far the most invasive procedure I have had where they decided to remove and entire muscle from the back of my leg, which so far seems to have helped me considerably," says Linke.

Deciding to go public with his rehabilitation, Linke says is for a number of reasons. In his sporting career Linke has already endured rehabilitation periods to get back to an elite level and he wanted to show the wider community, not just family and friends, the dedication needed to overcome such setbacks. Linke also feels that his story could be an inspiring one for others to continue to chase their dreams.
The cameras have been given virtual free-reign to document Linke's journey including hospital scenes although the hospital stopped short of allowing footage during an operation. "It is probably fortunate," says Linke, "as the viewers may have been put off their food."

The number of operations and the chance of full recovery with a return to the national team are all unknowns for Linke and he says he has not planned for different outcomes. His aim is to race at the 2014 World Rowing Championships, but he admits concern.

"If I was to encounter problems down the track, I would be unable to hide or escape from what was going on," says Linke. "I feel I would also be letting down all the supporters of my journey. Touch wood that this never eventuates."

"Part of the excitement of the project is not knowing the outcome," says McKinnon.

Filming began in June this year when Linke underwent his first operation and the plan is to produce a 12-part YouTube web series going through the 2014 World Rowing Cup in Sydney in March then through to national team trials in April 2014. The first episode came out in the first week of November and then each episode will follow two – three weeks apart.