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County Upper Basketball Academy double national title winner Grace Spooner bounces back from injury nightmare to defy medics' prognosis



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It was two-time Olympic champion Bob Richards who wrote in his book ‘The Heart of a Champion’: “It may sound strange, but many champions are made champions by setback. They are champions because they’ve been hurt. Their experience moved them, and they pulled out this fighting spirit, making them what they are.”

And if ever a quote summed up former Sudbury schoolgirl Grace Spooner, that would be it.

The Bury St Edmunds County Upper School Basketball Academy player has suffered more than her fair share of broken bones down the years, while the discovery of a heart murmur meant she was unable to represent England at under-15 level.

Grace Spooner recovered from a serious arm injury to help County Upper School Basketball Academy win two national titles this year Picture: Mark Westley
Grace Spooner recovered from a serious arm injury to help County Upper School Basketball Academy win two national titles this year Picture: Mark Westley

However, it was in 2020 that the 18-year-old was struck down by her biggest setback yet.

Spooner, who attended Acton Primary School followed by Ormiston Sudbury Academy, broke three bones in her arm and wrist, as well as some significant ligament damage in a skateboarding accident.

Surgery and countless hours of physio followed, yet the Brettenham resident was warned by specialists that the severity of the injury would make it tough to reach her previous levels of basketball.

Grace Spooner (far right) was part of the County Upper School Girls Under-19s basketball team that recently won their two national finals in what will be the last of the basketball academy Picture: Mecha Morton
Grace Spooner (far right) was part of the County Upper School Girls Under-19s basketball team that recently won their two national finals in what will be the last of the basketball academy Picture: Mecha Morton

But Spooner knuckled down, got on with her rehabilitation and her persistence was rewarded earlier this year when she was part of the history-making County Upper Basketball Academy Under-19s Girls’ team that won two national titles.

Having been with the Bury St Edmunds-based club since the age of nine, it’s an achievement Spooner was never going to miss.

“My arm was as bad as it gets,” she said. “When the cast was removed I had low mobility in my wrist. It was locked and I couldn’t do anything, not even wave.

"Hospital was great and he helped me so much.

County Upper School, Beetons Way, Bury St Edmunds.Five County Upper Basketball Academy players are signing scholarships after being recruited by US Colleges.Elizabeth Sanders 10, Emma Robbins 12, Kayleigh Brown 14, Grace Spooner 9, Jemima Kent 4 and Emily Soar 8. Picture by Mark Westley. (57537916)
County Upper School, Beetons Way, Bury St Edmunds.Five County Upper Basketball Academy players are signing scholarships after being recruited by US Colleges.Elizabeth Sanders 10, Emma Robbins 12, Kayleigh Brown 14, Grace Spooner 9, Jemima Kent 4 and Emily Soar 8. Picture by Mark Westley. (57537916)

“I kept going because I’ve got such a love for my team. They are like family and I play point guard, so I didn’t want to let them down. I’d miss them – and coach Johnson – so much if I hadn’t come back.

“And to come back and win two national championships is a great way to do it.”

If there was one saving grace for the right-handed Spooner, it was the fact the damage was to her left arm.

Nevertheless, she had to work hard on her technique to compensate for the injury, but she certainly did not appear to be feeling too many ill effects last season – highlighted by her performance against Holy Trinity Basketball Academy when she scored 19 points, grabbed 11 rebounds alongside getting seven steals and dishing out eight assists.

“I’m a different player now,” she said. “I’ve had to change how I use my arm and how I transfer the ball.

“My physio helped a lot with that and so did coach Johnson. As a point guard I need to use both arms and I needed to learn to shoot a different way. It took some time but I’m feeling good.”

Grace set to inspire as female coach

This summer, like many before, has seen a number of County Upper players head to the USA with scholarships, allowing them to continue developing their basketball alongside their studies.

Spooner, herself, received three offers to make the switch Stateside, but she has decided to remain close to home due to potential concerns with her arm. And instead she is hoping to act inspire others.

“I had a few offers but universities look for injuries you’ve had and I didn’t feel confident about it,” she said. “I’ve decided to stay closer to home. I’ve got my coaching qualification and that’s something I’ve got a passion for.

“I’ve had so many injuries and coach Johnson thinks I’ll be a good role model. I can show that you can come back from setbacks. And I’m hoping the fact I’m a female will also be impactful because there are not many female coaches out there.”