Goodness Gracie she's back to her best

JONATHAN MCKEOWN
Last updated 12:00 19/03/2014
 Moss Burmester
MARION VAN DIJK/FAIRFAX NZ
THERE BY THE GRACIE OF GOD: Gracie Roberts has made the New Zealand Junior Tall Ferns basketball team after battling back from a career-threatening injury.

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Serious injury in sport is one of the most devastating blows for a young athlete but, having come through it, Gracie Roberts believes it builds character that can be of benefit on the court.

The multi-talented year 13 Waimea College student has been selected for the New Zealand Junior Tall Ferns basketball team to travel to an international series in China in April. The tournament begins almost a year to the day after Gracie had knee surgery to repair her lateral meniscus.

The injury, surgery and rehab meant Gracie missed out on representative volleyball, a successful season for the highly rated Waimea College netball team and was unable to play for the under-18 New Zealand basketball team.

Moreover, her surgeon has advised Gracie that, due to the high impact involved in the stop-start nature of netball, she should no longer play the game. That will be a huge blow for Waimea netball as Gracie could start in almost any position and regularly played in both goal defence and goal attack throughout a game.

Basketball allows players to move with the ball so Gracie can still reach the heights she was touted to achieve but has been advised that it's unlikely she will regain all her budding explosive movements.

"They said I would probably never be back to full potential," Gracie said.

"I still get a bit of pain playing volleyball and stuff but it is manageable."

Naturally, Gracie recalled the gloomy moments having to forgo all sport, when she had regularly played three at the highest level in Nelson and internationally in her age group.

"It was tough having to sit out of everything last year. It was hard to sit back and watch it all," she said.

While Gracie may not be as dynamic as she might have been - while still being a capable athlete - she believes there are other ways to improve her game.

That was something she discovered during her lengthy lay-off.

"Having to sit out such a long season and making it back has made it more special, I think," she said.

"Having to watch my team play, you actually see a lot more than you do on the court. That has actually been good, looking at more options off passes and everything."

The teen, who played in the national women's championship-winning Nelson Sparks team as a year 11 student in 2012, said there has also been physical benefits.

"I think having to rebuild my strength made me stronger," she said. "I never went to the gym before and it made me work on alignment and stuff, which has been good."

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Six months after surgery, Gracie started training and the comeback was competed when she was selected for the Junior Tall Ferns. A squad of 50 trialled in December and was then cut to 20 before the final squad of 12, including two non-travelling reserves, was named recently.

Angus Riley, a Nayland College leaver last year was also selected for the New Zealand Junior Tall Blacks.

If the tournament goes well for Gracie, she will likely join the under-19 team later in the year to contest the Oceania Championships in Fiji. Along with Fiji and archrivals Australia they will play off for the right to compete in the world under-19 champs the following year.

Gracie will head to a training camp in Auckland on April 6 before leaving for China on the 10th. During the two-week trip, the team plays two tournaments in Sichuan Province and a tournament in Hunan Province.

From the low point of facing almost a year without doing what comes so naturally to Gracie - excelling in sport - she has climbed straight back into it and reached another pinnacle in her young career. She believes anyone has the ability to return from injury stronger than before - they just have to want it and look for the silver linings.

"You will do as well as you do, I guess. It's up to you really."

- Nelson

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