Bouncing back: The triumphant sportspeople who took a hit but kept on going forward

Injuries and illness are an unfortunate, yet unavoidable part of sport and life in general. Today we write about athletes here in Newcastle and around the world, who know what it takes to turn a terrible setback into a magnificent comeback

Courtney Strait
4th December 2017
Rafa Nadal is well known for his many injuries but always bounces back. Source: Flickr: Kulitat

Sports Editor Courtney Strait interviews Maria Pregnolato about her recovery from her ACL injury:

Newcastle PhD student and basketball player Maria Pregnolato is no stranger to major injuries. Pregnolato, who is playing for her fourth year with the Knights, has torn the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her knee twice during her basketball career. The most recent injury occurred on 30 January, 2017 and has led to a long and grueling comeback.

Maria said unlike her first injury, this one was a puzzle to doctors. Her knee was examined and tested by orthopedic doctors at the emergency room as well as physiotherapists at a sports injuries clinic, yet both doctors were unable to identify the problem. Finally after RMI (remote medical imaging) was performed it was confirmed that Maria’s knee had endured a severe injury to her ACL. In fact, there were few fibres left in the entire ligament.

Despite a scary prognosis Pregnolato is not one to back down from a challenge

Despite a scary prognosis Pregnolato is not one to back down from a challenge. After a very timely rehabilitation program before surgery, Pregnolato had major reconstructive surgery to repair her torn ACL. Once awake and stable Pregnolato began working to strengthen her knee back to basketball form. The first step in this process was straightening her leg — from then on it was full speed ahead in her hopes of returning for the 2017-2018 season.

Pregnolato has improved from using crutches, to walking on her own and cycling, to performing S&C workouts and training with the team. She has almost come full circle from that fateful day in January last year and has shown her dedication to return to basketball. With help from Rich Eaton, S&C coach at the Newcastle Sport Centre, Maria has made great strides and is soon to be fully recovered.

Despite Maria’s impressive comeback thus far, this process was not easy. She said hearing her prognosis was devastating, as she was excited to enter the best part of the basketball season with her teammates and compete in the playoffs. In addition Pregnolato said experiencing this injury away from home was difficult. Being from the Milan area of Italy, Pregnolato had to face her injury and an extensive rehabilitation program without her family there to support her — a feat any athlete would find difficult.

Pregnolato is still a little cautious when she steps on the court but she said that mentality will change as she continues to gain her strength and confidence. She said she is resilient and is very eager to play at full speed and challenge herself in training. Mentally, Pregnolato said she is mentally stronger because of her injury. She said that she is proud to have the strength and diligence to overcome not one major injury, but two.

Despite Maria's impressive comeback thus far, this process was not easy

In reflection of her most recent injury Maria said she has learned a lot. She said she has learned to abandon her fears and focus on the positives — focusing on details, improving her mental strength, gaining maturity, etc. Maria’s love for the game has increased as well. She said it has been hard watching her teammates from the sideline for so long, and wanted nothing more than to compete alongside them once again. While observing, Maria said she was able to analyse the game as a spectator — something she had not done before. She said her knowledge of details, player positioning and timing have improved through her time on the sidelines.

Maria was finally able to use this newfound knowledge for the first time since January last week. Despite Maria not being completely recovered yet, she played in her first game of the season last week on 29 November against Nottingham, where she scored her first basket of the season. We are looking forward to Maria’s complete recovery and are excited to see how she can help the Knights through the remainder of the season.


Jonas Guiterrez (left) was a well-loved figure with the Toon hopeful. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Jonas Gutierrez' triumphant return to football- Tom Hardwick

Although Gutierrez’s story is not technically a comeback from injury, his battle with cancer and subsequent return to football is an inspiring story nonetheless.

Gutierrez signed for Newcastle United in 2008, and endeared himself to the fans during a successful stint that saw the club play Europa League football. However, Gutierrez was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2013, and returned to his homeland of Argentina to undergo treatment. His concern was not a return to football but simply surviving, yet Gutierrez incredibly managed to do both. He made a return to the game on loan at Norwich before reappearing for Newcastle in February 2015.

The crowning moment of his triumphant return may well be his final day heroics in the 2014-15 season, when a goal and an assist against West Ham saw Newcastle stave off relegation in the most dramatic of circumstances, and his determination to return to the club left an indelible mark on Newcastle supporters even after his unceremonious dumping by John Carver at the end of that same season.


Darren Fletcher's rallies after ulcerative colitus- Emma Bancroft

Darren Fletcher started out in football by working his way up through Manchester United’s Youth Academy, resulting in him spending 20 years with the club and making over 300 appearances with them. However, his career was interrupted when he was diagnosed with the chronic bowel disease ulcerative colitis in 2011. He announced in December 2011 that he would take an extended break from the game.

Fletcher underwent surgery in 2013 and describes it as a success and how he is now able to live a “normal life”. Following his recovery, he has spoken about the debilitating effects of the illness and the impact that it had on his football career.

Despite his condition, Fletcher has certainly made an admirable and successful return to the game; after his contract with West Bromwich Albion expired, he signed a two-year contract with Stoke City and has since become one of only eight players to achieve a 100th consecutive Premier League appearance.


Petr Cech's miraculous recovery- Toby Bryant

Petr Cech’s towering form in goal has graced the Premier League since 2004.

Nowadays, the Czech is just as well-known for his headwear as his shot-stopping skills. Yet in October 2006, Cech was victim to one of the most horrific injuries in modern football.

15 seconds into a match, Reading FC’s Stephen Hunt misjudged his run and stepped directly on to the keeper’s skull. The injury could not have only been career-ending, but life-stopping too. Thankfully, brilliant work from surgeons in Oxford saw metal plates inserted into Cech’s head with just minutes to spare.

Despite the severity of the injury, it took the now Arsenal goalie a mere three months to be playing again. He donned a rugby-esque headguard, which he still wears today, and began a seamless transition back to the top of the game. Where many athletes battle for years to defeat their injury demons, due to the nature of his head injury, Cech owes a lot to the fantastic surgeons who saved him.


Kubica became the first Polish driver to win a Grand Prix in the 2008 Canadian Grand Prix. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Robert Kubica's comeback after rally car accident- Tom Shrimplin

The motorsport maestro was a rising star in Formula One, until Robert Kubica’s racing career was curtailed in February 2011 after suffering career-threatening injuries when he crashed into roadside barrier while rally driving non-competitively.

The crash had severed his right forearm and caused several compound fractures to the right-side of his body. Despite several lengthy but successful operations, the crash had left him with limited movement in his right arms.

After a period of rehabilitation, and then re-breaking his leg, he restarted rally driving by the end of 2012, later winning the World Rally Championship-2 and subsequently the FIA Personality of the Year Award in 2013.

Kubica has recently begun testing for the Formula One teams Renault and Williams, and is currently favourite to take a seat for latter in the 2018 season. Kubica has acknowledged that he has had to adapt to his disability but is feeling assured stating “the motivation is there, and the body is reacting in a good way”.

A return to Formula One for Robert Kubica would be just another chapter in a remarkable story.


Rafael Nadal, the Comeback King- Egle Vaitekenaite

The famous Spanish tennis player, Rafael Nadal had to withdraw from the 2017 Paris Masters tournament, because of a serious right-knee injury.

During the emotional speech at the conference, he admitted that he did everything he could on the court, but due to almost unbearable pain, continuing to play in the tournament would be impossible. He noted, that he wanted to concentrate on long-term goals, and therefore decided to save his health for future tournaments. Moreover, due to the injury, he also lost his chances to play at the ATP World Finals, which took place in O2 Arena in London. Since becoming professional in 2001, Nadal has had many injuries in comparison to other tennis players. Although he has experienced the many of his worst injuries at the beginning of his career, he has always managed to recover and come back even stronger to the courts of the best tournaments.

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