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Helen Alderson is set to put her injury nightmare behind her this week and restart her career which had been cruelly disrupted at the end of last season.
The former England under-19 goalkeeper is set to make her first appearance for Sunderland reserves against Everton on Sunday, ten months after suffering a knee ligament injury against Leicester City last May, as her team were on the verge of lifting the Northern Division title.
"I got the all clear from the surgeon two weeks ago," Helen told Women's Soccer Scene. "I have had two weeks of full on training and now it is a case of just getting my match sharpness back again. I'm sure it will go fine."
The injury came just days after Helen played for Sunderland in the F.A.Women's Cup Final against Arsenal and won much praise for her performance on the day. "I was devastated when it happened," she recalled. "I was told I would be out for ten months and I had to accept that and be realistic about things. For two to three weeks I had a brace on my knee and couldn't put any weight on it whatsoever, and it wasn't until a month after an operation that I could start walking again.
"The first few months of rehab were spent building things back up again and it dragged as I couldn't do anything. It got to the stage where I was excited about bouncing on a trampoline as it was something different! Even doing things such as changing direction when running, that was also a big thing for me."
Helen's injury meant that she has had to miss out on Sunderland's excellent season back in the top flight which took them to the top of the league, where they still lie now. "It helped when Sunderland started the season as it got me involved," she admitted. "I am really proud of the girls for what they have done, Rachael Laws has stepped in and done a brilliant job in goal, which I knew she would do. When they beat Arsenal and Chelsea I was jumping up with the rest of them.
"The past two years for Sunderland has been crazy to be honest. We knew we would do well but it's one thing saying it and then doing it. Beating Chelsea was significant for us as it followed up from our win in the Cup semi final last season.
"We've raised eyebrows but I am not surprised at how well we have done as I thought we were capable of it."
However Helen is in no rush to get back into the first team. "I am just going to take it one step at a time, see how Sunday goes and take it from there," she says. "I want to challenge Rachael Laws for her place but for now I am happy just to be playing again."
Helen has not been alone in fighting back from injury as she has been training alongside her friend and former team mate Steph Houghton, who sustained a similar injury. "Steph was injured a few weeks before me," she said. "it helped having someone with me to go through each stage of recovery.
"I am proud of us both, with us having been on crutches and knee braces, we went through a lot together. But Steph deserves to be playing again as she has had so many setbacks and always comes back stronger."
Now Helen is back as well and there are two people in particular that she owes a lot to. "Julie Twaddle and Damon Voss have done so much for me," she reveals. "Julie, as a conditioning coach, has been there every step of the way and helped me along. I've given her a lot of grief and complained but she has always done what has been best for me. I have seen Damon on a regular basis and he has helped me through everything and I trust everything he says and tells me to do.
"I have had a lot of support from Sunderland and England with my rehab and recovery and I wouldn't have come back so quickly, or as strong as I am now, without their help."
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