"It was horrific. I had snapped my achilles tendon and literally didn't have a leg to stand on," Royal Ballet principal dancer Steven McRae recalls ahead of his Romeo and Juliet performance
Steven McRae Ballet
Credit: Steven McRae/Instagram

After a career-altering injury, Royal Ballet principal dancer Steven McRae is ready to take the stage!

The Australian-born athlete suffered the unimaginable during a live performance of Manon on London's Covent Garden stage two years ago.

"It was horrific. I had snapped my achilles tendon and literally didn't have a leg to stand on," McRae, 35, told The Sunday Times on Thursday.

"I hobbled to the side of the stage and lay down in the wings — it felt like I had a knife in my achilles. Where it had snapped and ricocheted up my leg it looked like someone had bitten a chunk out of my tights. I was screaming out some terrible language — people in the stalls could hear me," he recalled.

McRae suffered from pain leading up to the injury. He underwent surgery for his achilles in May 2018, and in April 2019, went under the knife for his knee. Months later, he decided to perform again in Manon.

"I was still in an insane amount of pain," the dad of three shared. "A week before the show I had decided to stop rehearsing in order to feel the best I could. I was so excited to be out there because I had been off stage for a while." 

It was during the second act that his achilles snapped and he thought his career as a professional dancer was over.

"Those first 20 minutes it went through my mind that this was it," McRae noted. "It's over. I will never actually recover."

However, Royal Ballet director Kevin O'Hare was optimistic.

"Kevin told me, 'You will dance again; we will get you dancing again.' And it was like a switch was flicked," McRae added. "'Of course I'm going to dance again,' I said to myself. 'The mission starts now.' "

McRae underwent a full achilles reconstruction. He said his surgeon "had to go into my lower leg and pull the achilles back down, clean it up and then reattach it. Two little bungee straps were inserted to support it."

The ballet dancer said he had to learn to walk again.

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After months of rehab and therapy, the veteran dancer will return to where it all happened -- the Covent Garden stage.

On Tuesday, he'll dance as Romeo in Romeo and Juliet – a huge accomplishment for McRae, who thought his career was over after that fateful night in 2019.

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"Many people didn't think it was possible for me to step back on any stage, let alone this one, admitted McRae. "At one point, I didn't think I was going to be able to walk properly. We have virtually achieved the impossible to get where I am now. It's a moment to celebrate."

McRae continued, "I hope next Tuesday will be the greatest show of my life. It's a show that for a long period I never thought was going to happen. Whether it's technically perfect doesn't matter. What matters is that my story is a beacon of hope. I want people to believe that, yes, sometimes crap happens, but we can find a way through it."