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Paul-Nilsen-Column
12/11/2013
Paul Nilsen's Women's Basketball Worldwide
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Zlatanova lifts lid on dealing with serious injury setbacks

NEWCASTLE (Paul Nilsen's Women's Basketball Worldwide) - The number of serious injuries to women players have increased in a big way - or so it seems. Perhaps it’s due to the incremental evolution of female athletes as they get faster and become physically stronger – or maybe because of social media, we simply hear about cases than we used to.

Eager to find out more about what it's like to be one of the injured stars sat frustratingly on the side-lines or hitting the comeback trail, I caught up with Bulgarian ace Jaklin Zlatanova recently.

A player whose EuroLeague Women dreams were shattered by a horrific double injury blow, meaning she’s now trying to somehow get back on track.

She said, "Last year was terrible for me. It was my first year with a EuroLeague Women team and competing for gold in Liga Femenina with Rivas Ecopolis, but the injury spoiled everything.

"I feel like I have missed the opportunity I had been waiting and working so hard for."

"Then when I recovered, I tore my Achilles again and needed a second surgery – so it was a really sad year for me."

"I'm now taking it one day at a time, I try to concentrate on the present. I'm still recovering and I'm taking my time."

"I learned rushing only makes things worse when it comes to recovery and I'm still learning to be patient, because this is the hardest part for me – the waiting."

It’s a familiar story and players like Zlatanova always need to somehow find the mental strength to start again – something very much easier said than done.

In her case it was interesting that after such horrific problems, she has understandably opted for home comforts - finally returning to Bulgaria to hopefully play with Dunav Ruse in EuroCup Women, having spent almost a decade away, mainly in Spain.

"I love Spanish people and Spanish basketball. I still watch games and follow the results and the rankings in Liga Femenina. I played five years there and lived my best basketball experiences and memories," she explained passionately.

"But, I have opened a new page in my life now after coming back to Bulgaria having played for nine years away from home. I left Sofia when I was just fifteen and I now need to spend more time at home with my family and my Bulgarian friends.

"I'm happy here, I feel good and I don't regret this decision. I think that there is time for everything in life and for me now it's time to fully recover, physically and mentally."

Without being prompted, those last words will strike a chord with other players who have, or indeed still are coming to terms with serious injury. Yes, it’s part and parcel of professional sport, but that doesn’t make it easy when it happens and being comfortable seems to matter most in the healing process.

Having support is also absolutely vital and that is something Zlatanova thankfully isn’t lacking in.

She confirmed, "I'm surrounded by great professionals and also great human beings - the coach, the whole team staff ,the players and the fans. Everybody is cheering me up and are really patient with me."

"I also want to mention our trainer Petya, who did great work, not only with my Achilles, but also taking care of me mentally during my breakdowns and mood changes."

Despite all the talk of trying not to look too far ahead, it’s impossible to remove the excitement and anticipation any top athlete senses when thinking about stepping out competitively again.

Zlatanova is no different and dangling a carrot of playing for Bulgaria and trying to qualify for Eurobasket Women 2015 wets her appetite - albeit very briefly.

"I missed the chance to play for the national team last summer, but I'm really excited to put the national jersey on again," she smiled.

"Georgi Bojkov, of Dunav is going to coach the national team and I know he is very hard-working and ambitious, which means that the team is going to do its’ best and try to qualify."

"I believe that if we are all healthy, we have the same chance to qualify as the rest of the teams playing the qualifications for Eurobasket Women 2015."

"But as I said, I'm trying not to make big plans for the future. I'm concentrated on recovering and helping Dunav as much as I can."

After talking to Zlatanova, it vigorously re-enforced my appreciation of the complications players suffer when spending a long time out of the game. How it changes their outlook, makes them re-assess what is important in their lives and how it can harden their resolve to fight on.

I really hope Jaklin gets out on court soon, since there are few better sights than seeing any player who has endured terrible injury problems getting back to doing what they love the most.

Paul Nilsen

FIBA

FIBA's columnists write on a wide range of topics relating to basketball that are of interest to them. The opinions they express are their own and in no way reflect those of FIBA.

FIBA takes no responsibility and gives no guarantees, warranties or representations, implied or otherwise, for the content or accuracy of the content and opinion expressed in the above article.

Paul Nilsen

Paul Nilsen

As a women's basketball specialist for FIBA and FIBA Europe, Paul Nilsen eats, sleeps and breathes women’s hoops and is incredibly passionate about promoting the women’s game - especially at youth level. In Women’s Basketball Worldwide, Paul scours the globe for the very latest from his beloved women’s basketball family.