Mwai Kumwenda knew something was wrong after she landed awkwardly against the West Coast Fever in Perth just over a year ago. The pain, she thought, was coming from her calf.
“But always I was like ‘oh, I’m tough!’ We always push each other,’’ the Vixens’ star shooter recalled during an interview at the VIS last week.
“So Kate (Moloney) was like ‘MJ, you are tough’, and then I was like ‘oh, yes, I will go back and try to do a little bit of warm-up’. Then after I did it, I was like ‘oh, no, I can’t do this. It feels sore’. But I don’t know what happened.’’
A torn ACL was the shattering diagnosis, and long-serving club physio Steve Hawkins and coach Simone McKinnis were left to confirm the news in an emotional meeting that night at the club hotel.
In plain language, they told Kumwenda she would play again, but not for a year. “I was like ‘oh, yeah, I’ll work hard. I’m tough’.’’
Aware that her goaling partner Tegan Philip had returned from a similar injury was reassuring, and among the many external messages of support were texts from from the likes of Giants’ captain Kim Green and former Vixen Sarah Wall.
“It was very hard for me to understand, but anyway, because I heard that Tegan did the same thing, so I just accept it. Sometimes things happen for a reason, so I accept it.’’
It was a very different atmosphere the Friday before Round 10 when Kumwenda was told she had been selected in the 12 for her comeback game against the Adelaide Thunderbirds at Melbourne Arena.
She almost squeals as she recounts it. Surprise. Disbelief. Tears of joy. And request for permission to hug McKinnis - granted.
“I was speechless. Speechless,’’ Kumwenda beams. “The support I get from the Vixens is just amazing.’’
That included Hawkins and strength and physical performance coach John Tascone, with Kumwenda joined in the rehab group by training partner Rahni Samasan (ACL) and Taylah Honey (Achilles).
“It helps me a lot because we always encourage each other, pushing each other,’’ Kumwenda says. “We have fun with each other, so that’s good to have them, and be working together.’’ And dancing sometimes, too.
As she dealt with what was her first serious career injury, the 29-year-old was also kept busy doing work, including netball clinics, for Netball Victoria. But early on, especially, there were bad days to go with the good ones.
“Some days the knee is very sore, but you don’t need to give up, you just need to do it,’’ she says. “And I feel like now I’m very strong, because I’m lifting heavier weights than before. I feel way more stronger than I used to be because I have never trained hard like this.’’
Retained in the team for Saturday’s clash with the Fever at Melbourne Arena, Kumwenda admitted to some nerves before taking to the court, and to feeling slightly overwhelmed by her welcome from the supportive Melbourne Arena crowd.
So what did playing her first minutes in the game against West Coast Fever mean to the popular Vixen?
“A lot for me, because I’ve come from a long way, like a year,’’ Kumwenda says. “But I want to just give the best that I can.
“I was so nervous because it was the first time, but because I train with these girls, Emily (Mannix) and Jo (Weston), I feel more confident. I just want to be the best that I can, so I will try my best when I am back with my sisters.’’