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Brighter Days For Tenacious Thompson After Concussion Setback


If you’re wanting to find the perfect example of perseverance and resilience then look no further than new Stars midcourter Emma Thompson.

This year the livewire attacking player earned her first professional netball contract with the Stars, after impressing through various opportunities in Australia and New Zealand.

“I was looking forward to moving to Auckland and I did most training ahead of pre-season remotely in Melbourne.” Thompson said.

“I worked really hard in the off-season and came to New Zealand in what I believed to be the best physical condition of my life. I was tracking towards surpassing a score of 19 on the yo-yo test which I’d never done before. I was feeling confident, ready to go and excited to start.”

In a cruel blow, Thompson endured a horror start to her pre-season in Auckland, when she suffered a head knock during a team development session.

“I didn’t think much of it at the time, it obviously hurt but it didn’t feel too bad. Then a couple of days later I developed delayed concussion symptoms which were completely debilitating. Thompson explains.

‘I couldn’t do anything for a number of weeks. I couldn’t really drive, walk more than 60 metres without feeling faint and I spent a lot of time just sitting there staring at the wall. I was pretty frustrated and it was probably the most challenging experience of my life.”

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The setback meant Thompson would have to delay her start to the ANZ Premiership season and undid the great work she’d put in physically, thrusting her back to square one.

Thompson says it was incredibly hard dealing with an injury that wasn’t physically visible.

“Because it wasn’t like a “normal" injury, there was no crutches or knee brace, I found it difficult that people couldn’t see the injury and would assume that I was fine based on my appearance.”

“It was a spaced out feeling for a number of weeks, I couldn’t concentrate on conversations and I couldn’t shake this headache. Combined with moving countries by yourself, it was challenging to not have the usual support network of family and friends I would normally rely on.” Thompson adds.

“But I remember very early on I had to go to the emergency room because my symptoms got worse, I felt isolated and alone but I remember looking up and seeing the big smile of Maia Wilson walking into the emergency room even though I hadn’t reached out to anyone. The whole Stars community got around me and were really welcoming and caring. It was a really tough couple of months for me, but I think with the support of the club, my friends and family I managed to get through it. 

Stars coach Kiri Wills says it was one of the most difficult situations she’s had to manage in her coaching career, given the uncertainty of Thompson’s condition.

“In most circumstances you can give them timelines and a level of clarity around how many weeks they’ll be out and when it’s going to start looking good and when they can start joining in the on-court activities, but the reality for Emma was she couldn’t do that.” Wills said.

“That was very frustrating for her and sad for us to see a physical beast like her sit there and have all her training opportunities taken away.”

Thompson worked closely with Stars management and led by strength and conditioning coach Barrie Jennings and physio Sarah Fanuatanu, a strict return to play plan was created for what would turn into an arduous recovery journey of almost four months to get her ready to play again.

“The hardest part was trying to combine managing symptoms, with the increasing load, and trying to build fitness while performing at the same time - well enough to get selected to actually play. So, it was a mental, physical and pain management plan.” Thompson said.

After being unavailable for the first five games of the competition, Thompson made her ANZ Premiership debut in the Stars dress in Saturday’s round six match against the Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse in Wellington, playing 36 minutes.

“It was amazing to finally take to the court. I’ve had to adjust my game a lot since the injury but I think it has actually made me smarter as a player because I haven’t had the physical speed or endurance to be able to perform at the level I know I normally can.”

“I’m excited for the combination once my fitness does return. I’m just trying to take the positives and learn from every opportunity.” Thompson said.

Wills is proud of the determination Thompson has shown to get back on the court.

“To only have Emma available for full training for three weeks and for her to have missed an entire pre-season and go out and play like she did against the Pulse was very impressive and a credit to her.”

While this has been the most challenging injury Thompson has endured, she hopes what she’s been through continues to shine a light on just how serious concussion can be.

“My biggest learning through this is you can’t push through a concussion, whereas with an ankle or knee injury you could potentially push through the pain.”

“Doing anything before I was ready from a medical perspective made me significantly worse and prolonged my recovery and unfortunately with a concussion, recovery is just about taking time and resting.”

Thompson is still taking things day by day, but looking to put her best foot forward so she can keep contributing on the court and grow the bond she’s created with her Stars sisters.

“The culture at the club is the main reason I decided to play for the Stars, I’d heard really good things about it and it hasn’t disappointed. I felt a part of the family and have had so much support in the time I needed it.”

“Now it’s exciting to enjoy it with the girls. I wouldn’t change where I am at all.”

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