Lungile Mthembu didn’t think she would make it back onto the netball court after she ruptured her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). The former University of Pretoria mid-court player was in line for selection to represent South Africa at the 2017 Netball World Youth Cup when her knee gave in and unbeknown to her, it was something way bigger than a sprain.
“The hardest part was me accepting that I had an ACL injury. When I got injured we were at the Under-21 SA trials, I remember coach Norma (Plummer) was there, it was proper selection and I was in the centre position. I was all alone, it wasn’t even a knock from someone. I was alone and what happened was I landed then my knee just gave in. I carried on running, I was in denial. I had to go for MRI and I was told by the doctor that it’s a complete rupture and not even a tear.”
“Everyone kept saying that they had never seen anyone suffer and ACL injury and carried on running but obviously you know the adrenaline and all. They told me that I was going to have to be on crutches until my operation. I thought it was the end of it. I thought my netball career is coming to an end,” she remembers.
As a Tuks player at the time, the university led by coach Jenny van Dyk and netball manager Riana Bezuidenhout made sure they took care of the player to usher her to a full recovery both mentally and physically. The institution provided her with a medical team, including a sport scientist to help her get through her recovery journey successfully.
“They took me to the best doctor there is when it comes to ACL reconstruction, Dr Pelser. I went there, everything was paid for and after I woke up from the operation, the doctor said everything went well. He said the most important thing would be rehab as many people don’t bounce back after suffering injuries. I trusted the doctor because obviously, he’s best. I knew what I had to do. I had to make sure that mentally, I am okay. The whole of 2016 I was busy with rehab, making sure I was ready for 2017. They took good care of me,” she says.
The sport science graduate only took up netball at Grade 10 but she didn’t view the sport as the love of her life, at first. She was already a budding cricketer, hockey player, footballer, basketballer and was in the school’s athletics team as well, in the 400m and long jump events.
After her hockey coach went on maternity leave, the school’s netball coach roped her to the team. But her talent on the court was undeniable and became one of the best netball players at her school and in the region.
This later saw her being named as the vice-captain for the KwaZulu Natal Schools Under-19 team and later she was selected for the national team in that age group.
She was part of the South Africa Under-19 side that won the gold medal at the Zone IV Games held in Zambia.
Van Dyk saw this talent and scouted her to the Tuks netball team.
The 27-year-old made a number of sacrifices to stay in tip top shape for the university team, one of those was that she made fewer visits to her home even during holidays. A commitment she doesn’t regret.
Mthembu’s talent ensured that she made it into the group of 24 players that have been contracted by Netball South Africa in their bid to push for the professionalisation of the sport in the country.
Although the Empangeni born player is yet to earn her first cap for the senior national team, having missed out on the Commonwealth Games and the the Africa Netball World Cup Qualifiers, she is optimistic that she will don the green and gold soon.
However, she is not oblivious to the fact that she will have to continue working hard to get run on the court for South Africa.
“It’s a great opportunity. I feel like its every player’s goal to represent their country in the respective sports. I can’t believe my hard work has finally paid off, being acknowledged as one of the top players within a pool that has people who have international experience. It’s nice playing against people because you learn but being in the same team with them, it’s the greatest thing. You get information you wouldn’t normally get when you play against them.
“We learn different skills, we advance our performances. I’m taking things step by step, I know everyone has to have goals but mine are every day, just get the day done. The day to day goals are the ones that actually put me at a level where I am able to compete with the greatest. My goal is to take in as much as I can especially from the training camps we attend and hopefully my work will be acknowledged enough to be selected,” she says.