An anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) rupture is not to be taken lightly. In football – or any sport for that matter – it is notorious as one of the worst injuries that could sideline you for a whole year.
In netball it is no different. ACL injuries likely result in operations and months of rehabilitation to rebuild the athlete’s strength in the knee, taking small but calculated steps in order to return to action.
To this day netball star Beth Cobden, from Heath Hayes in Cannock, is still on the court and playing at the highest level, despite three unfortunate ACL injuries.
The first came when she was just 17 years old as her right knee buckled.
“At the time I didn’t know much about it,” Cobden told the Express & Star. “I’d heard about doing your ACL and I knew it was a long time out, but I didn’t really know anyone who had done it.
“I took it in my stride because it was unknown to me. Even though I missed out on netball for a year it was my final year of school and it allowed me to focus on studies, have a good final year and social life.”
The arduous process of recovery began. First an operation and then two months of rehab before walking properly becomes a reality.
Strength and weight work follows that before a return to running and then building back to a match scenario.
Having overcome that injury as a teenager, Cobden started her career in professional netball – starting out with Manchester Thunder in the Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) before moving to Loughborough Lightning. She also made her England national team debut in 2016.
Her career took off and in 2018 she won gold at the Commonwealth Games but following that triumph, playing in the Vitality Netball Superleague Grand Final for Lightning, Cobden suffered a second ACL injury – this time to her left knee.
“Having done it the first time it’s definitely easier the second time because you know what to expect,” she added. “The initial blow is probably worse because you know what’s coming, but overall I dealt with the second one fine.
“It was at the end of the season and I wouldn’t miss too much when I came back, so it worked out OK for me really.”
After enduring the recovery process for a second time Cobden moved to Australia to play for the Adelaide Thunderbirds.
Only three games into the season, and three months away from the World Cup, the 28-year-old suffered a third ACL injury and the second on her left knee. Not only did it curtail her playing experience Down Under, but it also robbed her of performing at a home World Cup.
She added: “When it went again that was the big blow. That one was really hard because I wasn’t expecting it.
“I thought there must have been something structurally wrong with my knees and now that I had two new knees from the previous two injuries, I didn’t think it would happen again.
“I went out to Australia to play and it was the third game in so I ended up missing that whole season. The World Cup was three months away, so I ended up missing that. There were a lot of consequences to that injury, which I didn’t have with the others.”
Having overcome the physical challenges twice before this time round the mental scars were difficult to face – particularly after Cobden watched her injury back through an Instagram post.
“It was tough,” she added. “Covid helped as I had a lot of time at home and no-one could play for a while. I had a block of time where I trained at home and got stronger.
“I had an extra four or five months of the rehab rebuilding before moving on to the next stage, which was frustrating and boring, but also good because I was able to build up stronger and with less risk.
“In that sense it worked out well and I had to keep positive. I found myself worrying about things a lot, but when I just went and did them I was alright.
“It’s only now I’m starting to feel a bit better and get games under my belt. I just needed to get out there and do it to build confidence.
“I worked with a sports psychologist through England Netball and she was great. I had lots of chats with her and regular appointments.
“It focused on visualisation. I had something in my head where I would think about landing and it snapping.
“That’s because I saw it happen on Instagram, someone tagged me in a video of my injury just after it happened and that didn’t help.
“That scarred me a little bit and I needed to work through that image and replay it differently in my mind. That’s helped a lot, changing the negative image into a positive one.”
Cobden returned to England at the start of the pandemic and carried out her recovery, before the VNSL got back under way in mid-February.
Back at Lightning, the 28-year-old has been a key figure for the side in the opening fixtures of the season and now has her sights set on future international tournaments.
“This season is going well and I’m looking forward to getting the rest of it done,” she added. “There’s lots of longer-term goals. The Commonwealth Games is next year and the World Cup the year after, so I’m still wanting to be part of that and in the England team. Those goals of mine haven’t changed, so hopefully I can get to that World Cup that I missed out on last time.”