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Ella Clark

Image: Morgan Harlow

As Ella Clark made her way onto court at the 2024 Season Opener, it was the final step of the longest journey of her career.

Victory was all but wrapped up for her Loughborough Lightning side by the time she entered in the fourth quarter, as the reigning champions made an impressive start to their title defence, but Clark’s return was a win all by itself.

It had been 622 days since Clark last appeared in the Netball Super League, after the goal attack ruptured her ACL within two minutes of the 2022 Grand Final.

The time since has been filled with hard work, tears, and a stint as a Super League-winning assistant coach as Clark embarked on the long road back for the second time.

 

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A post shared by Ella Clark (@ellaclark_7)

But as the 32-year-old made her long-awaited return in Nottingham on Saturday, she did so in the knowledge that both her and Lightning are stronger for the tests she has been through.

“It was a big growth period for me, as anyone who has been through quite a big injury will say,” she said.“You get challenged in ways that you won’t be challenged elsewhere.

“I took that opportunity of being assistant coach as a big learning opportunity for me. I think I learned quite a lot from that experience and I hope that can be translated into how I perform on court.

“To be part of it last year was great. I get to put winning coach on my CV now, not many people can do that.

“I am very happy to be on court. The stint of rehab behind me has made me really confident in what my knee can do. I am ready to get back out there and help the girls defend the title.”

Clark’s journey back to the court was one of a number of off-court battles that Lightning dealt with on their way to last year’s title, but the England international believes Vic Burgess’ side are the epitome of adversity bringing a team closer together.

The attacker suffered a number of setbacks in her own rehab, but it was the support of teammates and coaches that made the difference.

 

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A post shared by Ella Clark (@ellaclark_7)

“I have done my other ACL and was back in seven months, with this one I was only running at 15 months,” added Clark.

“The thing that separates Lighting is our team culture and a lot of people who come into the squad will say we have a great team culture.

“When I did my ACL and Nat [Panagarry] and [her wife] Katie went through their thing, everyone grouped around each other.

“We have a really tight knit group, me, Nat, Beth [Cobden], and Hannah [Joseph]. We have been with each other for so many years, we used to live together, I would call them some of my best friends.

“I know there are worse things in the world than an ACL rupture but it is still crap for me. To have people understand and just listen to you, say it’s alright you can cry if you want. They came to watch my sessions when I was running by myself.

“They always say in team sports you inherit a family, which is true, but I would genuinely consider some of these girls my family.

“You go through life together and they know what it takes to play at this level. They know the grind. It is nice to have that understanding.

“Those times people were there to pick me up when I was down or celebrate my wins, it was really nice.”

 

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A post shared by Ella Clark (@ellaclark_7)

Those hard yards meant there were emotional scenes as Clark returned to the court in the fourth quarter of Lightning’s victory, with head coach Vic Burgess paying tribute to her after the match.

“It has been such a tough journey for her,” said Burgess. “It was a pretty horrendous injury, she has worked so hard to get back to the court and it was quite emotional.

“A few of the girls got quite tearful on the bench just seeing her return to the court and we celebrated that in the changing room.

“I am really proud of her and all the people that helped her get back to the court. Her resilience and her focus has got her back in the position to be able to take the court at this level.”

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