These are the words Emma Ryde never thought she would utter. But just did:
“I can’t wait until I can start running again,’’ laughs the young goal shooter, whose career-best pre-season was derailed by a fractured kneecap discovered just over a week before Suncorp Super Netball’s opening round.
“I’ve never loved running, but this pre-season I’d worked so hard. After not getting as much court-time last year, I said to myself ‘what do I need to do to be out there?’.
“I knew I had to be a bit fitter, a bit stronger, so this pre-season - Simone called it her ‘summer school’ - I was at the VIS five to six days a week, working on my running, working on my hands, and my ball-take, and just the fitness and strength that I really needed to make an impact on this season.
“So that’s why it’s even more devastating; because I’d put all this hard work in, and I couldn’t get out there and show what I had done.’’
It all happened innocuously enough. A routine training drill; an awkward landing. It was sore, yes, but Ryde thought that’s all it was, so tried to continue on and ignore the pain. Until the morning after a practice match against the NSW Swifts in Geelong in April, when she tried to warm up and found she could barely walk.
An MRI scan confirmed the diagnosis of what Ryde calls “a really peculiar fracture in my knee, that I got told is most likely to happen to a woman who’s gone through menopause’’. The 21-year-old was also told she would be sidelined for around four months.
Vixens teammates (including her housemates Kadie-Ann Dehaney and Mwai Kumwenda), coaches and medical staff rallied around their promising seven-game, 197-centimetre shooter, which helped; so has work experience at the Netball Victoria offices, with Ryde’s resumé limited to a nine-month stint in a Mornington Peninsula fish and chip shop.
But, still, it was difficult, particularly during those first few weeks on crutches. “It was crazy, the timing, a week before the season. We'd all gelled together really well during the pre-season, so for it to happen at that time was quite heartbreaking, mentally,’’ Ryde admits.
“I’d never been through something quite like that and it was amazing still to have all the girls’ support; they always messaged me to see if I was going OK. But it’s still not quite the same. It’s good being around them, but I’ve also had times where I’ve had to kind of withdraw myself from them.
“Some trainings I’m like ‘should I go, or should I not go? And I think that if I’m having to think about it, it’s probably not the best idea that I go because I’ll get myself into a mental state that I don’t want to be in.
“But I’ve had so many people around to help me that it’s been crap in a way but it’s also shown me a different side of netball and given me an insight into what happens when you get injured.’’
Ryde is clinging firmly to the hope of playing again in 2018, discarded her remaining single crutch 15 days ago, and was thus able to attend Sunday’s satisfying eight-goal defeat of the Magpies unassisted as the Vixens clambered back inside the top four.
Returning to the gym for some leg-strengthening exercises provided a rude shock, however, for the limbs felt weak, almost jelly-like.
“It’s awesome to be off the crutches, but I’ve still got a long way to go I think,’’ admits Ryde, who has represented Australia since under 17 level, competed at last year’s World Youth Cup in Botswana and dreams of one day frocking up for the Diamonds.
“Knee injuries are so unpredictable, but I’m going to do everything I can to put myself in the position to be back and playing. I’ve known most of these girls for a very long time and it would be awesome just to be back out there with them.
“I think the way they played against the Fever (in round seven), that first half, and especially the second quarter - when they scored 26 goals - was probably the best I’ve seen them play together. They gelled really well and if they can play like that- I don’t think anyone can stop them.’’
For Ryde, meanwhile, being unable to play, or even run, is increasing her appetite for both. “It’s definitely flipped something in me that I know I’m capable of more than I think,’’ she says. “I can actually do it and not just have people tell me I can do it. And I can believe in myself more, because I feel like if I can overcome this, I can probably overcome anything.’’
By Linda Pearce, multi-award-winning netball writer with over 30 years experience.