A year lost - and recovered
Young athlete makes inspirational comebackJONATHAN MCKEOWN
One of Nelson's most promising athletes will return to competition this week following reconstruction surgery and 13 months of rehab.
Last year, Nelson College for Girls' Rebecca Kersten had the sporting world at her feet.
At just 16, Rebecca was a member of two elite national squads. She played for the New Zealand Women's Touch Blacks and she was a gold squad member of the New Zealand women's sevens team.
The multi-talented youngster was also a Future Black Sticks age-grade rep for New Zealand Hockey. Her only trouble was deciding where to focus her obvious talent.
Then, an innocuous run on a sunny weekday afternoon changed everything. Playing in the local touch module, Rebecca took the ball forward but when she tried on some footwork, she went down in pain. Rebecca was told she had ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her left knee.
More than a year later, the year 13 student will turn out for her cherished Nelson College for Girls touch team at the New Zealand secondary schools touch championships in Auckland.
Nelson schools are well represented, with Nelson College playing in the boys' draw and Waimea College shooting for a mixed touch title.
Nelson College for Girls' chances have improved significantly with the news Rebecca will be back.
It was a long road to recovery after nine months of post-operation rehab for the ACL and six months post-op for a shoulder dislocation sustained 18 months ago, which left Rebecca prone to putting it out.
"It was a bit of a shock, I wasn't expecting it to be that bad," said Rebecca of her prognosis. "It was really hard because I always thought that this year would be the year to really do something with my sport.
"The hardest part was calling each of the [national] coaches and telling them I couldn't play. It took me a long time mentally, to get over that."
But for an athlete who has been described by one of her coaches and the Nelson College for Girls' sports co-ordinator, Alethea Stove, as "one of the most mentally tough teenage girls I have met", Rebecca would not be down for long.
"Before I was injured, I kind of thought I was invincible when I was playing, like nothing was ever going to happen to me.
"[The injury] brought me back down to earth in a way and it gave me the opportunity to give back to the sporting communities that have given so much to me over the years."
A sportswoman through and through, Rebecca climbed into new challenges. Instead of becoming disillusioned at her predicament, she chose to remain involved and pass on her expert knowledge through coaching.
Rebecca gave back to her school by coaching Nelson College for Girls' touch and junior hockey teams. She coached the Nelson Bays Touch Association's under-15 girls' team and assisted with her premier women's hockey team.
Rebecca's dedication was recognised when she was named as one of three finalists for the Service to Sport award at the Tasman Secondary Schools Sport Awards.
The national coaches have seen Rebecca train and play, they were aware of her dedication. When she made those difficult calls last year they were all sincere in wishing the Nelson talent well in her recovery and rehab, and when saying they would keep in touch.
Through the national under-18 hockey coach, Rebecca hopes to play hockey in Wellington next year for the under-21 team. She has been invited to sevens' training camps and has been training alongside the Touch Blacks in recent weeks.
Given the injury and time out of sport it would be easy for Rebecca to cut down her options and focus on one sport. But giving up any chance to play for her country doesn't sit right with the now-17-year-old.
"I think the injury has made me want it even more. Sitting back and watching everything has made me realise how much passion you can have for something and now I do want it more."
Rebecca plans to take a gap year before studying so she can focus on sport. She wants to give herself the year that was lost. Rebecca will base herself in Nelson, but is likely to bounce all over the country for national camps and games.
But before she bounds back into the New Zealand rep scene, Rebecca and NCG touch team captain Nicole Drummond want to finish their time at the college proudly, leading a side against the country's best college touch teams.
"Touch is the next aim, the first tournament back for me. Because it is our last year, Nicole and I both really want to make it the best we can."
With last year concluding in anguish and most of 2013 spent healing, Rebecca wants to end the year a champion - though that is something she has never ceased to be.
- © Fairfax NZ News