Sophie Barker

Sophie Barker's Road To Recovery

Author: Rachel
March 7th 11:32am

Sophie Barker, or Barks as she is affectionately known, is a Notts County Ladies player, who plays in the top flight of English women’s football, the FAWSL.

Sophie unfortunately missed the entire 2013 WSL season as she ruptured her right Achilles tendon in a pre season training session on the 6th February 2013.

A year after she sustained the injury, Sophie is back playing and is looking forward to being part of a successful team.  I spoke to her about her long road to recovery and how it feels to be back playing the sport she loves.

As we’ve established, your injury occurred in a pre season training session, can you explain exactly what happened?

 I managed to do it in the first pre season training session back for Lincoln Ladies FC; we had just finished our warm up and were going into the main session. I went to run from the cone and as I put pressure through my back leg to push off, my Achilles tendon just completely snapped out of nowhere.

That sounds awful.  Did you know how serious your injury was as soon as it happened?

Not at first. I heard a bang and then all I felt was extreme pain, like nothing I have ever felt before, it really was unexplainable. Once the initial pain had subsided I turned round to my teammate behind me and asked her why she just kicked me! Of course she set me straight, “I didn't, you just fell over" which I thought was really strange. I’ve never been injured before, so the concept and the pain were all new to me. I took a look at my leg and  my calf was slightly out of place, I just assumed I had hurt my calf, I tried to walk on it, but soon realised that was impossible, so off to A&E I went.

With such a serious injury, your recovery process must have been a slow and frustrating one. Can you talk us through the stages of your recovery? 

 This was the hardest and longest period I have had to go through being an athlete.  First of all I went to A&E to get it checked out, they told me that I had ruptured my Achilles; therefore I was admitted straight to the ward for the night.

The next day I underwent my operation where they had to join it back together; from there I was put into a cast with my foot pointing completely downwards. I spent around a month with my foot cast in that position, then every two weeks I had to go back and get it re-cast into a new position until my foot was back to being flat.  I went back around 3 times, this resulting in me being in a cast for a total of three months.

After the cast had come off, I had a really skinny leg, and a really thick solid Achilles, so I moved onto the 'Moon Boot' which had four wedges in. This enabled me to slowly put weight back onto my leg/Achilles and start to stretch it again.

Every 2 weeks I could take a wedge out to stretch my Achilles until I was using the boot solely without any wedges at all.  This lasted around 2 months until I was finally able to walk with just crutches. During this 'moon boot' period, I visited our club physio 2-3 times a week for intense massage of my calf and Achilles, this was done to try and reduce a lot of my scar tissue. I spent around another month, after the boot was off, getting used to walking slowly until I was finally able to walk unaided, which then meant my rehab with my physio could start.

I had an intense rehab program for a couple of months to strengthen both my Achilles and calf. I did a lot of calf raises, foam rolling and thera-band work to build up my strength.  This was another lengthy process lasting 3-4 months. So all in all it took 7-8 months until I was allowed to join in my first session without contact. 

A seven to eight month layoff for such a fun, energetic character like you, must have been really tough. How did you cope mentally with your injury?

I am quite a mentally strong person in general, but this was extremely tough. I’m such an active sociable person and being told I had to sit on my bum for 6 months with no football, no work and no driving drove me insane.  I would often take myself out for a walk with my crutches just to clear my head.

What helped you through this difficult time?

 There were a number of things that helped me through my injury and recovery. I have a very supportive family for one, they were a big help to me. Secondly, living with three of my teammates really kept me involved in the day to day running of the football club. They would take me to sessions, keep me entertained and would make me smile every day. Finally my two physios, who were on hand whenever I needed them, created an amazing rehab programme for me. T       hey had great patience, put up with a lot of my moaning and they made sure I didn’t rush my recovery.

I was also asked to do the commentating during games on the local radio station, which allowed me to be part of the game day atmosphere. It allowed me to interact with fans about what was happening on the pitch and just kept me involved in the game day experience. Everyone around me was so supportive during my injury, which looking back helped me through the toughest time of my life. 

What stage are you at now with your fitness?

I am now back playing friendlies with the first team at Notts County Ladies.  The new WSL season is fast approaching and I’m hoping to be involved throughout. During the close season I spent most of my time playing with the NCLFC reserves. This helped me regain my fitness and get back into playing competitive games. I have since joined the first team in preseason and have loved every minute.
Do you have to take extra precautions or do anything different because of the injury? 

I don't take any extra precautions or anything; I just make sure I have stretched it properly before I go into a full training session.  Afterwards I will often put bio-freeze on it so it doesn't get too stiff the morning after an evening training session.  All in all, I have had a really successful recovery and I’m now back playing at the top level after having a season out with a freak injury.
From everyone at Return2Fitness we wish Sophie and Notts County Ladies a successful season!

For more about Sophie and the team check out the official NCLFC website

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