The beauty of sport is that it provides the platform for dreams to turn to reality. In this series of articles we speak to people who have dug deep to make their own dreams come true – sometimes defying the odds in the process.
South African goalkeeper Sanani Mangisa spent two Olympic cycles – Beijing 2008 and London 2012 – as the understudy to number one goalkeeper Mariette Rix. Patiently, the Johannesburg-based goalkeeper trained, played, watched and waited for her chance.
Rix retired immediately after the London Olympic Games and Mangisa thought her chance had arrived as she stepped into the goal as first choice goalkeeper. A series of high class performances in the following months were enough to seal her place as the South African goalkeeper. Her main goal was the 2014 World Cup in the Hague, the Netherlands. Having missed out on two Olympic Games and a World Cup, the prospect of competing at a major international event was her one and only thought.
Disaster struck at the beginning of 2014. Mangisa suffered a career-threatening Achilles tendon tear and her chances of recovering and being fit for selection were remote. An injury such as hers can take anything from four to six months to fully repair. Time was not on her side.
In what came close to a miraculous recovery, Mangisa was recovered in time for both the Champions Challenge in Glasgow which took place in May 2014 and then the Rabobank Women’s World Cup in the Hague a month later.
The then Head Coach of the South African team, Sheldon Rostron spoke to South African news outlet News24 after Mangisa was named in the South African World Cup squad: “Sanani has shown a lot of courage,” said Rostron. “She is a fighter and its taken a whole lot of character. She put in a lot of hard work, throughout her injury and that has enabled a quick turnaround once her injury was healed.”
The process of recovery comprised hours on an anti-gravity treadmill and then specific work on the achilles and calf muscle to regain the explosive power needed to be an elite goalkeeper.
Looking back at that time, Mangisa, who is a member of the South African Olympic Association Athletes Commission, says: “Having played in an Olympic Games and Commonwealth Games, I was missing the one tournament that I considered the pinnacle of our sport. Making that team was almost like a priority goal for me on two counts. One: to make the team and two: was to see how far I could push my body to recover in record time. Playing in the first dual World Cup (men and women) was a daily motivation for me.
“When I stood on the pitch four our opening game, more than anything I felt a great deal of satisfaction that I had completed a recovery process that had look near impossible at the start. I came back to full hockey training 3.5 months post my achilles injury. I felt a sense of pride in the work that I had done to get to that moment of singing the national anthem with the team.”
Looking back on her hockey journey, Mangisa says that goal-setting was one of the most powerful tools she had to get her back on track and it is a message she passes on to others who find themselves up against similar challenges. “Setting goals post injury is important. But having a detailed map of how to navigate getting to those goals is equally as important. Set a short term weekly map that will help you achieve your goals. There are going to be setbacks in recovery but be kind to yourself and deal with those with some perspective.”
Mangisa has stepped away from hockey now, although she mentors a number of young players but she says the resilience she learnt on the hockey pitch spills over regularly into every other aspect of her life. “I think resilience is built over encountering certain situations and coming out on the other side of those situations okay,” she says. “The more challenging experiences one is faced with, the more the mind understands that “I’ve been here before and I can do this.”