Rianna Jarrett: 'All I wanted to do was to get back to a level where I could have a kick around with friends on the street'

Mon, Jul 16 2018

Jarrett in action for Youths against UCD Waves shortly after her most recent recovery. Credit: Al Robinson

Injuries and rehabilitation are two things that the majority of young sportspeople and athletes will unfortunately experience over the course of their sporting career.

This is just the competitive and ‘win at all costs’ world that each and every person involved in sports at any level will come across and learn to live with as they progress through the grades and age levels.

The will to win and the hunger for that feeling of success outweighs the slight hesitancy that might be there to get stuck in and risk injury every time they have to make that decision.

That decision is one which Wexford Youths and Ireland striker Rianna Jarrett has faced quite a few times as she’s dealt with three ACL injuries in the past five years.

An anterior cruciate ligament injury occurs when the knee locks in place and there is a sudden change in direction against the knee.

ACL injuries are more common in women as a result of differences in anatomy and muscles.

For the then-22-year-old Jarrett, it all got a bit too common in March 2016, during her senior Ireland debut against Italy.

Nine minutes after coming on for her first taste of senior international action her knee buckled beneath her and she was left in agony on the pitch.

It was a case of déjà vu for the Wexford striker, having suffered the same injury the previous January in her right knee and two years prior to that in 2013 when her ACL nightmare began.

Jarrett, now 24, has had to accept this news on no less than three occasions and her most recent comeback in recent months has been the most impressive of all.

Since getting herself back to full fitness and back on the field, she has stormed to the top of the goal scoring charts in the Women’s National League and earned her place back in Colin Bell’s Ireland squad for the recent World Cup qualifiers.

With everything she has been through, Jarrett is just delighted to be back playing football and doing what she does best again.

“It’s great to be back playing,” the Wexford native says, speaking exclusively to extratime.ie.

“It’s definitely been a rough couple of years on the injury front but I’m really starting to enjoy playing soccer again.

 “We’ve started the season very well with Wexford Youths and are improving week in week out. It’s an unusual feeling being involved every weekend but a great feeling at that.

“Three ACL injuries in the space of a few years hasn’t been ideal, and each one individually has been hard to take, never mind collectively. The recovery wasn’t all plain sailing, just like anything in life.

“I had my good days, but there were also bad days thrown into the equation as well. For me it was important that I didn’t allow the bad days to roll into bad weeks and so on and so forth.”

This type of injury generally has a recovery time period of nine to 12 months, a harsh thing for any person to be told by their doctor, and even more so for someone whose football career is just starting to take off.

To get back to the top of her game both at club level and on the international front, it was imperative she maintained the same steely determination she had to find within herself when she did her ligaments for the first time.

One way of looking at it was that when it happened the second and third time she knew what it was going to take to get herself back playing football and that she had already done it before.

On the other hand, it meant another long and hard road to recovery away from football and a lot of the time training and rehabilitating on her own with her own individual programme.

“There was never a stage where I doubted my ability to get back on the pitch, after the first time I knew I could do it because I’d done it before.

“Getting injured the second time was probably the toughest one to take because I was the fittest and strongest that I’d ever been.

“I’d just come home from spending a semester playing soccer in the US. To get injured straight after was a hard blow to take, but I knew what was ahead of me so I never doubted if I’d get back on the pitch again or not.

“I struggled a bit initially during the latest recovery and all I wanted to do was to get back to a level where I could have a kick around with friends on the street.

“Not because I didn’t think I’d be able to get back to the level I was at before, but more because I didn’t know if I wanted to go through it all again

“Once I was in the swing of things again though, there was only one thing on my mind, and that was getting back playing with Wexford Youths. I was delighted to get back playing halfway through last season.”

An ACL injury is a tough injury from a rehabilitation and recovery point of view with a minimum recovery period of nine months.

The majority of the programme for recovery is individual-focussed and away from your teammates.

It’s a lonely road to recovery that was made a lot easier by those close to her. The hospital appointments and physio were left to Jarrett but the love and support along the way came in the form of her friends, family and teammates.

“The first few weeks is just about getting the movement back in the knee and getting yourself back on your feet.

“From day one you’re given exercises. From there then it’s simple body weight exercise trying to get what’s left of the muscle firing so you can build again through gym work.

“There’s loads of balance plyometric and proprioception work. Then you’ve your bike work, straight line running which builds up into twisting and turning.

“Each exercise leads into the next, all a process that links into each other, eventually getting you back into training sessions and then building toward game time, where you gradually up the playing time.

“I was fortunate enough that we’re a close group at Wexford Youths. Everyone was always checking in on me to see how I was doing with my rehab, and how things were going at home.

“If they spotted you doing a new exercise, or running for the first time, turning for the first time they’d be the first to congratulate you and put a smile on your face.

“I made it my business to continue going to every training session and match where I could.

“Although it was difficult to be constantly looking on from the side-line, I felt it was giving me something to build towards.

“Even at matches I always had people from other teams, players/management/spectators asking how I was getting on, asking was I any closer to a return.”

Thankfully, Jarrett is no longer looking on from the sideline with people asking how she is.

If that question does come her way these days she is delighted to be able to start chatting about the match she has just played or the training session she is off to on a weekday evening.

Continuing with her goal scoring exploits, helping Wexford Youths finish as high as possible in the league and Champions League football in Belfast next month are some of the things she has to look forward to over the coming months.

“As a group we’re very excited for the Champions League, but obviously can’t look past our league games first.

“I’m not going to lie, I was a bit gutted to get drawn in Belfast. We would have loved a proper trip away. 

“In weighing up the pros and cons though we’ll be well used to the weather and the food so won’t have to adapt when it comes to that

“We also won’t have to recover from travelling so not all bad. It’s a tough group but no group at that level will be easy so we’ll do our best.

“It’ll be the first Champions League that I’ve actually participated in as I was injured for the previous two that Wexford Youths featured in, so I’m really looking forward to it.

Having missed out on so much football in the last number of years, Jarrett is now back fully fit and is hugely determined to make up for lost time.

This is clear to see just by looking at the current top goal scorer list in the Women’s National League, where she is clear out in front by six goals and playing better than ever.

Defences in next month’s Women’s Champions League in Belfast have been warned.