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Christchurch women's rugby star on the rise again post-injury

Halle Taite-Pitama
Grace Brooker in the gym  Halle Pitama

After sustaining a knee injury during a match, Brooker is now back on the field.

Originally from Oxford North Canterbury, Grace Brooker's rugby journey started at four years old out on the lawn with family.  

Throughout her secondary school years at Christchurch Girls' High School she played for a successful first XV team that ultimately paved the way to her rugby career.  

"My teachers had a massive influence on me, so much so I did PE for a degree at uni." 

From school rugby, women's club and Canterbury teams, she eventually debuted at 20 years old as a midfielder for the Black Ferns in 2019. Brooker says rugby is in her blood and it was destined to be.  

In 2021, she was named in the Black Ferns touring squad going to England and France. At the 24th minute of her third ever test match against England she got injured and was ruled out of the tour.  

A day after the game she had knee surgery. Being in a different country's hospital Brooker says she wasn't allowed anyone with her which was a traumatic experience.  

The process for her was by far the toughest time in her life going through a bit of a identity loss and it came with anxiety and panic attacks.  

Steve Hansen's daughter, Jesse Hansen, did a lot of work with her as a mental skills coach. 

Brooker says the rehab process was horrific, especially when she did everything right but her body didn't react well to it and nothing really seemed to be working.  

She was still contracted with the Black Ferns during her time in rehab and she expresses her appreciation for her whānau support system as well as her physio Jen Ardagh, who was there every step of the way.  

"She was my rock and I wouldn't be playing without her." 

Doing simple exercises was mentally and physically harder than any other training she had ever done in her life.  

She started running at about seven months post injury and from game to game it was 476 days later that she played.  

When coach Whitney Hansen presented her jersey to her she said only one other athlete in New Zealand had got back to high performance sport after that sort of injury.  

Her Black Ferns debut was amazing but so far Brooker's biggest rugby highlight has been running on the field for Matatū 15 months post-injury after playing no rugby.  

"The pain and work that I put into trying to get back on the field was pretty significant in my life and it took a lot of hard work." 

She was stoked when the Matatū team came out winning the grand finals in the Sky Super Rugby Aupiki 2023 Championships. 

Her focus is to get as strong as possible to get out there and play some good footy.  

"My overall goal is to get back to the Black Ferns and to get back to a point where I was better than before." 

Brooker is still waiting to find out about the Black Ferns but hopes a contract is in her sights.