It has been a long four months for Black Ferns Sevens player Stacey Waaka. The Whakatāne High School product seemingly had the world at her feet coming into this year. She was part of the 2018 Black Ferns Sevens squad who claimed gold medals at both the Commonwealth Games and Sevens World Cup. She also won the 15-a-side World Cup with the Black Ferns in 2017. But in April, she hit a speed bump, an injured left wrist meant she could not even pick up a rugby ball for four months. However, her positive outlook never waivered and now she is nearing a return.
For many people, being forced to watch your teammates play the game you love without you, just as you were nearing the peak of your powers, could be disheartening.
Black Ferns Sevens star Stacey Waaka knows first-hand what that's like, suffering a broken wrist in April, while she and her teammates were competing in the fourth leg of the women's HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in Kitakyushu, Japan.
Since then she been rehabilitating her injury and just like many great athletes who have an ability to find the silver lining in any setback, Waaka is a prime example of someone who smiles in the face of adversity.
Her four month injury layoff was undoubtedly tough but now, as she nears a comeback, she is able to reflect on the positives.
"It was hard watching when the girls were away but it also allowed me to do other things. I'm getting married at the end of the year so I've been planning that, I've been back home to Whakatāne more times than probably the last five years that I've been living away," Waaka says.
"It's been cool getting that family time in and I'm studying as well, a Post Graduate Diploma in Business, so that's keeping me busy. It's only a wrist that was injured so I was still able to train and run.
"In saying that, I am ready to go again. I can't wait to get back on the field and play."
She said it was hard to say exactly when she would be back playing for the Black Ferns Sevens but she hoped it would be in time for the first tournament of the season in Colorado in October.
"I'm actually ahead of where I need to be which is, obviously, really good but it's hard to put an exact timeframe on it. It has been going really good though, I've had some really good physio support.
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"It has been a long four months, mid-April was the last time I had touched a rugby ball until last week. It was pretty weird but I think the body is an amazing thing - with muscle memory, if your mind wants to do something it will.
"Being able to pass a ball again was great, I feel like my pass has actually gotten better. It was exciting, I've been able to run the whole time but being able to pass the ball and hit someone with a pad was pretty cool."
During her time off, Waaka donated her World Cup winning Black Ferns jersey to Whakatāne High School, where her rugby journey began. Her jersey will be displayed alongside memorabilia from other sporting legends who attended the school including Benji Marshall, Lisa Carrington, Karen Hanlen, Nathan Twaddle, Noel Mills and Toni Jeffs.
"I think it's cool to recognise where it all started for us and for me I started playing rugby at high school in Year 11. They were super supportive of all my sporting things but rugby was obviously the pinnacle and it was cool to be able to share a jersey that was a big part of my journey.
"Whakatāne High School will always hold a special place in my heart, I was happy to give back to them."
She said, while many small towns had talented individuals, the success of those from Whakatāne came down to the support network at the school and in the wider community.
"There are a lot of good teachers, friends and family, we had a great support network there. I remember having to do a lot of fundraising for sport and you can't do anything without people helping you. For myself personally, I didn't have the wealthiest background so I needed that support."
Whakatāne High School principal Chris Nielsen described Waaka as "an amazing, humble young woman".
"It was special to have Stacey here too, she's the most recent of those who have donated. She came and spoke and she's still known really well to the students ... so for her to come and give that jersey was not only special but the message was a girl from Ruatoki who went to Whakatāne High School can make it on the international stage," Nielsen says.
"We wanted to celebrate and acknowledge the success of those students and show our current student that success is there and available to them if they work hard enough and be good enough," he said.