Ali Wilshier’s comeback from a serious knee injury started long before she even emerged from the operating theatre.
The talented Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel midcourter had surgery in August after rupturing her meniscus just three rounds into the 2021 ANZ Premiership season. Testament to her resolve, she earned herself a stint at wing attack during Steel’s 71-54 opening round win over the Trident Homes Tactix on Sunday.
“To be honest, I’ve been very lucky and everything has been pretty smooth sailing coming back and I’ve been just ticking along quite nicely. I haven’t had any major setbacks apart from it being sore,” she said.
“Those first few netball sessions were tough – it was like learning to walk again. But I’m just grateful to be back out on court.”
While facing the first major injury of her sporting career wasn’t exactly how she wanted her rookie season to play out, Wilshier was fiercely committed to her recovery from the outset.
“A huge part was training right up until my surgery. Pre-surgery I was in the best shape I could be and then coming out of surgery I had about six weeks fully off my feet. Then it wasn’t as hard to get back into training as it would have been if I had stopped and not done anything when I injured my knee,” she said.
“There was heaps of prehab and I was lucky to have a lot of support from the girls. When they were training on the court, I was in the gym so it wasn’t like I was doing it by myself. I still felt part of the team and connected to them. I think that really helped me.”
It was that tenacity which impressed head coach Reinga Bloxham, who opted to re-sign Wilshier before she’d even had surgery.
“I think it was nice that we were backing her and she understood that and so she was prepared to do anything in her power to get herself back out on that court,” Bloxham said.
“She made some really good gains last year but I knew that she still had more in her to give. I could see the potential in what she could do given a fully fit body and a knee ready to go.
“It wasn’t a hard decision for me at all. She added to the value of the team and I knew that coming back this season she would be able to pick up where she left off and then keep continuing to grow – which is exactly what she has done so it’s been really encouraging to see that.
“She was really diligent during the season when she hurt herself with her prehab going into that operation so I knew she was going to throw everything into her rehab once she got it done and she has.”
Wilshier was eager to repay the faith shown in her by the southern team.
“I’m very grateful. It makes me want to work even harder to get back out on court and perform,” she said.
“When I first injured my knee, I found it really hard to know how to contribute but all the girls included me in everything and I got to help out on the management side of the team so my involvement continued and that was huge for me.
“Everything runs smooth sailing but it’s a whole different story behind the scenes. It was great to learn about that side because as players it can often seem like everything is just easily done but there’s a massive amount of work which goes on.”
With physical side is now ticked, Wilshier admits she is still focused on the mental approach.
“I’m still in a bit of a process with that. It’s just trusting that I’ve done the work and learning to trust my knee again. I know my knee is fine but it’s all up in my head now,” she said.
“I’m quite hard on myself in that I think I can just get back on court and be the same as I was eight months ago. But I am different now so it’s learning new strengths of mine that I can pull out of the bag.”
Her aim this season was purposefully realistic.
“I just want to get that confidence back out on court. With Shan (Saunders) in front of me, what better mentor to have than her. So, when I do get the chance to get out on court I just want to soak it all up and have fun.
“I am loving it down here. It was a big transition last year but having been here now it feels more like home this season. Coming back down here wasn’t as stressful as it was when everything was so new.”
In round two, the Steel will face off against the defending champion MG Mystics at ILT Stadium Southland on Monday at 7pm.
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