• Bec Cole tore her ACL not long after her first Opals camp last year. It's been a long road but she's back (The Player's Herald/Crossover Photography) (Supplied, Crossover Photography, The Players' Herald)Source: Supplied, Crossover Photography, The Players' Herald
Melbourne Boomer Rebecca Cole was at the top of her game. Not long after she'd pulled on the green and gold at her first Opals camp last year, she tore her ACL. It's been a long road to recover but she's finally back. This is her story.
Bec Cole

24 Jun 2016 - 8:30 AM  UPDATED 24 Jun 2016 - 8:30 AM

Top of my game

I started playing basketball when I was seven.

Fast forward 12 years and I had made every state team, captained the AIS team and was awarded the Australian Youth Female Player of the Year in 2011. I was signed with the Bulleen Boomers, now the Melbourne Boomers, in 2012. I had pulled on the green and gold for my country for the first time and couldn’t wait to do it again.

The ACL tear

In June last year, injury struck. I tore my left ACL on court. When it happened, I started screaming. Not because of the pain, but because I knew what the implications were. I had just finished at Opals camp and still had the World University Games to come and I felt like my dreams had just been crushed. The highest high shortly followed by the lowest low. I remember vividly my coach calling me that night and he was in shock. I was crying and he didn’t know what to say. And coaches always know what to say. He had seen all the hard work I’d put in and knew that that was me out of action for the next 12 months and uncertainty surrounded my future.

I took two days off. I sulked, I was angry, but being angry wasn’t going to get me back on the court.

The healthier you are going in to surgery, the better you are coming out of it. So I was already ‘training’ by day 3…but this time I was training for surgery and not for Australia.

It's a long way back to the top

From day one I was doing as much as I could. I’m not going to lie; it was frustrating and not always smooth sailing. Some days I’d wake up and find it hard to motivate myself to go for that sprint / bike / gym / swimming session. I’d feel exhausted, alone and defeated. Within a month I was back at the gym doing basic exercises. For the first 4-8 weeks you have to do the exact same thing in the gym almost every day and when you feel head strong and ready to move on you get held back because your body isn’t ready for it. 

At 8 weeks you can start to do some light hopping and landing and then at 12 weeks you can start to run in a straight line. When I jumped for the first time it was so scary I took a few moments to build up the courage to do it. I succeeded and then I got this giddy feeling and was like ‘look at me I can jump’ and I was showing everyone I knew that I could jump again. Finally after a few more months, I could get back to work on the basketball floor. At 6 months I could do ball work and agility, 7-8 months I returned to training and at the 10-11 month mark I was back playing…AT LAST! It is such a long journey with so many stepping stones. It really is like learning to walk again.

On top of my rehab

Throughout the whole rehab process, even though you can’t be on court, this is a time where you can still improve on skills that you wouldn’t usually put as much time in to when you’re healthy. I focussed on my ball handling and passing and my shot technique. I pushed myself to the limits during rehab and believe I was the fittest I’ve ever been. I wanted to keep that six pack!

It’s at that time, when you’re at your lowest, that your support network becomes far more important. My boyfriend played elite soccer and was one my pillars of strength throughout. My dad used to play for the Socceroos. My mum is my everything. On the days I was angry, they’d let me vent, yell, cry, whatever I needed. It’s the stuff off the court that they related to and their words of wisdom made me realise that yes, I’d be out for 12 months but I could still play the sport I love once again. And at that point I’d be stronger physically and mentally than ever before. You learn a lot about yourself during this time.

Rehab is a lonely place in a team sport

Going to team trainings and games and sitting on the sideline was hard and some days it really got me down. You wish you were out on court doing what you love but more importantly helping your team get the win. When they win you celebrate with them but you wish you were a part of it on court. When they lose you wish you could’ve been out there to make a difference. It is definitely bittersweet.

People don’t realise that the first game back isn’t your big finale of rehab. It actually takes time getting back to the form you were in before you were injured, which unfortunately doesn’t come back over night. You’re an elite athlete so you don’t lose everything about being a basketballer. That said, being an elite athlete you hold yourself to a high standard so once you’re back on court you face a whole new mental and physical obstacle.

First game back

The first game was less of an excitement feeling and more of ‘I just want to get through it. My knee is fine. My body is fine. OK, I’ve done it’. For the first home game, I had so many supporters, who all knew what I’d been through. Their scream when I stepped on the court was very different to the one I had let out 12 months before when I did my injury. It was the accumulation of all those hours of cardio, gym, treatment, maintenance, appointments, ups and downs.

Rehab is a pretty lonely place in a team sport, but being back on the court made it all worth it. #Coleyisback…. look out Australia!

This article first appeared on The Player's Herald and is reproduced here with permission.