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“I can because I think I can”- The story of comeback by Carolina Marin after a career threatening injury

We all know what a champion Carolina Marin is. She is an Olympic Champion and three-time World Champion, and many more titles on the World Tour. She faced a major setback in January 2019 with an ACL tear.  It was a career threatening injury. But come September, the same year, what Marin did was extraordinary. In just her second event after return from the injury, she won a major title. A comeback by Carolina Marin in 8 months post such a grave injury is a feat in itself. It’s hard to explain what an athlete undergoes when hit by an injury unless a person experiences it. Those are the dark days of an athlete’s career which are capable of breaking them mentally, despite the damage being physical.

It was exactly a year ago that Carolina Marin won the China Open, 22.09.2019, marking her comeback post injury.

Here’s how the unfortunate event occurred, and her fantastic journey of recovery and victory.

The disaster

2019 started on a good note for Marin. Earlier in the Malaysia masters she finished runner up. Come, Indonesia masters, she made it to the final yet again. 27th of January 2019 began extremely well for the Spaniard. It was an electric atmosphere with hyper energetic fans cheering at the Istora Gelora Bung Karno, Jakarta Indonesia Open. After all, it was the finals of the DAIHATSU Indonesia Masters 2019. The tournament had a spectacular line up of the final matches across the five categories. Marin was to face off Saina Nehwal in the Women’s singles final. Little could she have imagined what was in store for her.

Carolina Marin Injury Indonesia Masters 2019
(Image Source: Twitter) Carolina Marin down on her knees before retiring from the match

The lefthander stormed ahead to a 9-2 lead against Saina Nehwal. She was on fire, unstoppable. At the end of the following rally, Carolina took a giant leap to smash, but landed bad on her heel, causing her knee to cave in and collapsed on to the floor. She burst out in tears out of pain. Serious damage had been done. Yet, the Rio Olympic champion climbed back on to her feet and tried playing. Unable to move and tolerate the pain she then retired hurt from the match 10-4. She knelt onto the court weeping, while Saina looked on. Getting back up on her feet she limped her way out of the court after greeting the opponent and officials. Saina Nehwal was declared the winner of the tournament

The arduous journey of recovery

Carolina Marin after ACL injury surgery
(Image Source: Twitter)

The Spaniard flew back to Madrid the same day and was diagnosed as an ACL tear. She underwent a surgery the following day. The road to recovery included a minimum four months of rehabilitation. 7 days after the surgery she took her first steps with crutches. The very next day she was back on court, performing upper body drills.

The surgery and crutches were never an obstacle to the Champion’s training. Her coach and team of physical and mental trainers have played a huge role in this process of recovery. Fernando Rivas is known to be a hard task-master and a go-getter. He even challenged the Spanish Badminton Board and brought home an Olympic medal for Spain. That’s his resolve, just like his ward Carolina. The left-hander was given a rigorous routine for physical conditioning and rehabilitation, and mental conditioning to stay positive and get stronger.

Injuries are tough phases of an athlete. Mental issues can kill a career or slow down recovery as much as physical issues. Her progressive mind set to take mental help is a key factor of her success. She worked with two psychologists: one for sports, and one for her personal life. She had about 10 hours of rehab in a day. The team also made full use of sports science. Marin was made to use an ear sensor to monitor whether the body is working coherently, and the nervous system is regulated. This was essential to ensure she was not over loaded and put at risk. The entire team with Carolina Marin put up an incredible work to structure her return to competition, stronger than before.

Also Read: The historic clash between PV Sindhu and Carolina Marin- Rio Olympics Final, 2016 : A throwback

The Comeback of a champion named Carolina Marin post Injury

She participated in the Vietnam Open. On 11 September 2019 she played the first match after the dreaded injury. Marin suffered a first round defeat to a Thai, Supanida Katethong 24-22,22-20. It was questionable then, whether she had hastened her return to competition and wasn’t fully recovered.

However, next up was the Super 1000 China Open. The first round victory against Nozomi Okuhara was a confidence booster for the Spaniard. She beat top players like Beiwen Zhang, He Bingjao and Sayaka Takahashi on her way to the final. The quarter and semi-final matches were gruelling and lasted over an hour. Marin pulled them all away with finesse.

The final against number one Tai Tzu Ying was no doubt an uphill task. It was a wonderful final of the women’s singles category at the China Open. Two champions were fighting with all they had to win the coveted title. Tai Tzu Ying quickly took the first set with her master strokes and Marin finding it difficult to find rhythm. The second and third sets were closely contested. Marin’s mental toughness surely came into play as she kept muttering to herself and let out screams motivating her to beat the Taiwanese.  She slumped on the court when it dawned that she had won the title. Marin triumphed 14-21, 21-17 and 21-18 in a 65-minute battle. Carolina Marin had beaten the second seed and marked her comeback with the China Open 2019. It was a feeling the Spaniard could not describe.

Carolina Marin China Open comeback by Carolina Marin after a career threatening injury
(Image Source: Twitter) Carolina Marin- Winner of China Open 2019

In the following events she made it to the semi-final of Denmark Open, the final of French Open and broke into the top 10 in the world again.

Athletes and Injuries

She is one of a kind in terms of mental toughness, physical fitness and on court speed. The comeback by Carolina Marin after an ACL tear injury in just 8 months and in peak form is the result of the plan of a mastermind. For her, it’s been her coach Fernando Rivas and her support team. Needless to say, Marin’s own determination too.

Many players lose out on a good career due to injuries. Many times it could be lack of quality support for rehabilitation. Injuries also affect players mentally. They wouldn’t be able to play a sport they love as they would normally. Unavailability of adequate support for recovery adds to their woes and further cause mental blocks.

Carolina Marin’s story is an exceptional case of recovery that can provide several insights on a Champion’s mind, training and recovery. It’s a lesson for all athletes to believe in themselves and stay positive to facilitate a stronger return post injury.

Isn’t it amazing how Marin does it? If asked maybe she’d say her Mantra “I can because I think I can”.

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