It was Jan. 29, one day before the Michigan State women’s basketball team was set to take on Purdue at the Breslin Center. The team was looking to bounce-back after two not very close losses at the hands of Northwestern and Iowa.
In practice, the team was doing a post-guard breakdown drill with a dummy defender. Then-redshirt junior forward Mardrekia Cook received the ball in the post and pivoted in a move to the hoop that would end up changing the season for her and the rest of the team.
Cook’s right foot never hit the ground.
“I thought someone stepped on the back of my shoe,” Cook said.
Cook looked over to one of her teammates as she was on the ground, looking for a foul to be called. Her teammates' faces reacted in a way where Cook came to the realization of her injury.
Cook tried to walk off the injury. She even attended the Purdue game the next day, hoping the pain would go away.
“I had thought that if I put on makeup and looked cute that I would not feel bad,” Cook said.
Four days later, Cook was diagnosed with a torn Achilles tendon in her right ankle and underwent season ending surgery, a major blow for a player averaging a career high 16.6 minutes per game.
Recovering from major sports-related injuries is no new occurrence for Cook. Her sophomore season was cut short to just eight games due to a torn ACL, resulting in her becoming a redshirt for the year.
That did not make the process of recovering from a severe achilles injury any easier though.
After surgery, Cook was in a cast for a month followed by a boot for three months. While the physical side of the recovery process was difficult, the psychological part was even harder for Cook.
“I don’t like to be looked at as the kid who is always getting hurt,” Cook said “... I was just very, very disappointed. It definitely took so much out of me when it happened. I have never really been that down ever in my life, so it was a very low point for me.”
To make matters worse, once Cook started to feel better physically in March and ready to ease back in with her teammates, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States and sports shut down. The Muskegon, Michigan, native decided to stay in East Lansing during the pandemic, in order to continue her rehab process.
There came a point when Cook considered hanging her shoes up and calling it quits; two major ligament injuries in the span of three seasons can be a tough toll on the body. But, Cook says she is not that type of person.
“I am not a quitter in no way, shape or form," Cook said. "If I start something I am going to finish it. My job is not done here. I am not going to let an uncontrollable situation tell me that I am done if I do not feel that in my heart or in my mind.”
Cook said the support from her teammates and coaches through the recovery process has been a huge help to her. She received texts almost every day from teammates helping her stay motivated.
In addition, Cook praised Director of Basketball Operations and Technology Julie Dombroski. The team was traveling for an away game and Cook did not want to go because of the difficulties of traveling. However, Dombroski convinced Cook to go and reminded her of her importance to the team, even if she cannot play.
The team held their first practice Oct. 14 where Cook was a full participant. She said she has been doing some load management by not practicing every single day, but when she does practice she practices fully.
Head Coach Suzy Merchant praised Cook for her recovery before the first practice.
“She does more than I thought she would at this time,” Merchant said. “She has been able to really dive in and be a positive leader for us because she can physically do the things that need to be done.”
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But for Cook, the story remains the same going into her redshirt senior year: writing her own story.
“Never let nobody write your story," Cook said. "Write your own story, and my story is still being written."
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