After suffering her biggest career setback to date back in 2019, Laura Rafferty was adamant her comeback from injury was going to be one to remember.
The 25-year-old put in more than 18 months of hard graft as she worked to recover from an anterior cruciate ligament injury. Rafferty was hit with the devastating during the summer at Brighton & Hove Albion, just weeks from the start of the 2019/20 season. As a result of the injury, the defender missed the entire Women's Super League season as she underwent her intense rehabilitation.
Speaking to GiveMeSport Women, Rafferty has discussed her motivation behind her comeback and what she's achieved both on and off the pitch in the last two years despite her ACL injury.
"I'm on a massive high still and I don't intend to come down from cloud nine if I'm honest," she said after Northern Ireland secured an historic European Championship qualification. The Green and White army were victorious over Ukraine in the play-offs to bank their place in their first ever major international tournament.
"We were buzzing with the achievement," Rafferty beamed. "Now, looking at what that's created for the younger generation – for the girls and boys coming through in Northern Ireland – it's been amazing. The support has been unbelievable.
Participating in her country's Euro 2022 qualification is undoubtedly one of Rafferty's career highlights to date. Her emphatic celebration at full-time was more than just the occasion at hand though. Achieving such a huge milestone – and making history no less – after suffering such a crushing injury is a remarkable feat for the versatile defender.
Rafferty’s achievements are not just limited to the pitch, however – she is a trailblazing icon in her personal endeavours as well.
Common Goal and academy plans
In 2020, Rafferty was unveiled as one of Common Goal's newest members. The project works tirelessly to create links between those involved in football and those who admire it most. Common Goal aims to tackle social hardships by requiring all members to pledge 1 percent of their earnings to a central fund, which helps promote quality education, gender equality and positive health and wellbeing.
Striving for a fairer world is something Rafferty feels very strongly towards. Not only does she promote equality and fight against discrimination but she works towards providing opportunities for female footballers pushing for their place at the highest level.
Along with former teammate and Australia international Chloe Logarzo, Rafferty has kickstarted a US scholarship system.
"I had a sour taste in my mouth from when I was younger," she explained. "I wanted to go to America but I never followed through because the process didn't really fit my needs. I felt like it was a massive change and a risk to take in terms of lifestyle when I didn't know too much about it.
"So we have made a guarantee that players who come on board with us will know everything they need to know."
Opening up about dyslexia
Whilst Rafferty was recovering from her injury in 2019, she admitted she had a lot of time to work on herself and improve areas of weakness in herself off the pitch.
The Northern Ireland ace is very open about discussing mental wellbeing and more hidden disorders, including dyslexia, which she herself suffers with.
Rafferty revealed that her rehab wasn't just physical focused, but a lot of time was spent on improving her reading ability and discovering a fierce love for winding down with a book. For someone who struggled in school due to her dyslexia, she is showing that it's okay to be open about it and reach out for help.
"When I was in the surgeon's room and he told me I had to have surgery, I told myself 'I'm not going to let this get the better of my head' and it was a case of, how do I do that?
"I was diagnosed dyslexic pretty much my whole schooling life and I used to get extra time in exams, but I wouldn't take it because I didn't want my schoolmates to notice there was anything different. Now, there's absolutely nothing wrong with admitting you have dyslexia, I just never knew what it meant really.
Rafferty went on to talk about how she pushed herself to grow from being limited to picture books during her school days to falling in love with novels during her recovery.
"One day I couldn't even stand the sight of them [books] and then all of a sudden I'm engaged in them and I keep ordering more and more to the point I've almost got a library in my bedroom."
Laura Rafferty continues to work effortlessly to inspire younger generations of all ages and abilities. Northern Ireland's historic European qualification has shown that the underdogs can go on to achieve unthinkable greatness – while her passion for normalising the conversation of mental health inspires others to be open about their struggles and celebrate their personal achievements.News Now - Sport News