SA women’s hockey goalkeeper makes heroic comeback after injury

2014-05-29 00:00

“REHAB is a dark and lonely place.”

These are the words of the Johannesburg-based Sanani Mangisa as the South Africa women’s hockey team goalkeeper reflects on the road least envied by elite international athletes.

The Mthatha-born Mangisa, schooled at St Patrick’s College in Kok­stad, before Epworth in Pietermaritzburg, suffered a career-threatening Achilles tendon tear last year that would have floored most athletes for good. But she wasn’t done yet.

“I was motivated by the possibility of playing in my first World Cup. Time was not on my side then as I had roughly four months to work on getting match-fit again,” says Mangisa. “Backed by a super medical and rehab team, it was a challenge I accepted.”

The rehab timeline after Achilles tendon surgery is usually four to six months, says Mangisa, whose two main goals were to make the team for the Champions Challenge in Glasgow and the World Cup thereafter. And make it she did. She was part of the SA team that won the bronze medal on May 4 in the Scottish city before selection for the World Cup team two days later.

Mangisa knows about dark, lonely places. Selected when barely out of her teens for the Beijing 2008 Olympics, as understudy to Mariette Rix, post-Beijing she spent considerable time in the wilderness before regaining her place as the number two ’keeper in the SA team through sheer hard work on and off the pitch.

A travelling reserve to Rix for the London 2012 Olympics, the immediate retirement of the Western Province goalkeeper gave Mangisa the opportunity to shine unchecked on the international stage. And shine she did with a number of unofficial player-of-the-match performances against the world’s best penalty corner drag-flickers and strikers.

Then the injury occurred. But that’s in the past now and Mangisa is busy with the SA team as they enter their final phase of training, just a week ahead of their opening game in The Hague, Holland, on June 1 against defending World Cup champions Argentina.

“The initial camp phase was at Almeerse Hockey Club and we stayed in Amsterdam. It has been good preparation for our team,” said Mangisa, adding that the SA team are looking to fine-tune some things ahead of the World Cup, the four-yearly showpiece that will take place from May 31 to June 15.

“It’s been nice to train on both the Kyocera and Greenfields stadiums’ [World Cup] turfs and get a feel for them,” says Mangisa, adding that training has been very specific with a focus on identified areas of play.

“It’s all about getting a good feeling now and feeling confident. The vibe in the team is great. At the moment, we are excited about getting the tournament started. Every day differs from the next and we are keeping the focus on our five games in group B.”

SA goalkeeper coach and team logistics planner Sheldon Rostron has plenty of time for Mangisa. At 1,62 metres, she is below average in height for the modern-day goalkeeper, but her agility and lightness of step make her exceptionally mobile in the six-yard area, just in front of the goals.

“Sanani has shown a lot of courage. She is a fighter and it’s taken a whole lot of character. She put in a lot of hard work, even while she was injured, and that has enabled the quick turnaround once her injury had healed,” says her mentor.

Mangisa’s attention to detail is unsurprising, considering she is a Tuks BComm financial management graduate. The setting of high standards and a refusal to settle for the mediocre is always apparent.

“Sanani has stayed strong, stayed fit and is doing well in training,” says Rostron, who praised Mangisa’s performance in this week’s training game against back-to-back Olympic champs and 2010 World Cup finalists Holland.

Mangisa has played in 92 Test matches and the magical 100-mark is not far away. But at one low point it appeared to be an impossible dream. Not any more.

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