Three years ago, my dreams of becoming a successful college basketball player were almost destroyed within a matter of seconds. As I saw one dream shatter before me, I desperately searched for another. The first question I had to ask myself was, “Would I ever play basketball again”?
Since then I have gone through many disappointments, physical and mental instabilities and much pain. Though the road ahead looked bumpy, I can now reflect back on my faith that inspired me to continue toward my next goal.
October 15, 2008, 4:00 p.m is a date and time which is burned in my memory and sends chills down my spine as I recall, with horror, the events of that time. Practice was going as usual – intense, upbeat and, of course, exhausting. I recall being extremely fatigued and just about to have a teammate come in and substitute for me. However, being the type of person who has always pushed myself one step beyond the limit, I decided to stay in until the ball was turned over one more time. One more time was all it took. As I lunged to knock the ball out of bounds, my knee felt as though it had rotated in a complete circle. The sounds of ligaments and tissue ripping made me sick to my stomach. The pain was excruciating and I fell to the floor screaming uncontrollably. It was not like most pain which hurts initially and soon subsides; my knee was locked behind me and 100% immovable. I had never in my entire life gone through anything so painful and, no matter how hard I tried to relax, the pain was just intolerable.
As I lay there in my own puddle of sweat and tears, I kept thinking, I’m finished; I’ll never play again; it’s over. Oh God, I begged, don’t let this happen; make this be a bad dream from which I’ll awaken. I could not control my thoughts; my mind was in a panic and my head spun as one horror after another flashed before me.
After practice, my teammates came to see me in the training room. Their intentions were to lift my spirits; however, it reminded me of a funeral. Everyone was consoling me for something they thought had died – my career. My coach, who has always been a tremendous inspiration to me, came in and encouraged me to pick my head up, stop feeling sorry for myself, and turn my sorrow into motivation – motivation to get back on the court again. That’s exactly what I did.
When the doctor examined my knee he felt that staying off the leg, physical therapy and working it back slowly would put me back on my feet and able to play again. After working at it for a couple of months, I was back on the court only to twist the knee again. It would not come back this time and arthroscopic surgery was suggested. It was not felt that any really serious damage had been done, so I went into surgery feeling only mildly apprehensive.
A couple of days later, as I lay in the hospital bed, the hospital physical therapist told me what my parents didn’t have the heart to tell me. The anterior cruciate ligament (the large ligament in front of the knee which stabilizes the knee) had been removed during surgery. Without the stability which this ligament provides, it would be impossible for me to ever play basketball again.
It was as though my whole world had crashed in on me and I sobbed uncontrollably. I wanted to be left alone to try and control myself and digest what had just been told to me. One of the doctors in the hospital came in to talk to me and told me that he knew there were professional athletes who had had that ligament removed and were still able to play. This difference of opinion gave me hope and it was this hope which kept me going for the next month, until my parents, coach and I could see the doctor, see the tape he had made during the operation and have him explain what had been done and what could now be done. At this consultation, we were told that the anterior cruciate ligament had been shredded and had to be removed and that I would have to work on developing the other muscles in my leg to a point where the muscles would do the job of the missing ligaments.
After many months of daily rehabilitation, I was ready to give basketball a shot again. Because of the brace I was forced to wear, a large part of my game, mainly my quickness, was already taken away. Surprisingly, I came back without any fears. I played the same style of ball I had before my operation. Whereas most people have to be told to let loose and not play scared, I was told to slow down and play more cautiously. I wanted to prove, as quickly as I could, that my setbacks were just those – setbacks, nothing I could not overcome.
Three months later I twisted my knee again. I went through the same emotional pains and once again tried to pick myself up and start all over with my rehabilitation. It was hard for me to accept that this had happened again. But I hit the weights and tried to stay motivated. It was difficult to do because, while I sat at a machine lifting weights, my teammates were in the gym improving their game. There were several days I remember leaving the gym crying because I just couldn’t bear to sit and be a spectator to a game which was such a large part of my life.
A couple of days later, it was time to visit the doctor, for only he could give me a release to begin playing again. I was so nervous all day. Thankfully, my trainer came to the doctor with me for moral support. I remember quite clearly my ear to ear smile and the chills of excitement which raced through my body when the doctor told me I could begin playing again. But I was also told that if I twisted my knee once more, I would have to have major surgery done to it. Dealing with the present and not worrying too much about the past or future problems, I accepted his words optimistically. I was happy.
My happy days were short lived for only a few months later I, again, twisted my knee. This is one day in my life which I can truly say affected me tremendously. I began to doubt all aspects of life and justice. Where was God when I needed him the most? There are so many people I know who play college ball simply because it pays for their education, whereas I, on the other hand, live and breathe basketball. I was faced with the decision of either never playing basketball again or having total reconstruction.
If I went through with the surgery, I would be confined to total bed rest for one week, be in a full length leg brace for three months, on crutches for another three months and then be required to use a walking cane for another two months. I thought about the long recuperation and the fact that I would be unable to play for another whole year. At this point in my life I was neither ready nor willing to throw in my shoes. I knew what I wanted so the question was really answered before it was even asked. I would have to be mentally strong to go ahead with the surgery so I closed my mind and prayed that the problems of atrophy which would set in almost immediately would be something I would deal with later.
My family, coaches, and very close friends were the only people who understood why I would go through all this. I constantly heard comments’ such as, “It’s not worth it: Where will playing two more years get you”? Twenty years from now, when you can barely walk, you’ll regret it.” But these people didn’t understand. It is not just a game, nor is it simply the winning that counts. It’s an attitude, a way of life, the molding of character, the thrill of accomplishing goals and most of all, in my opinion, the amazing satisfaction that comes from pleasing other people. These are all a part of life which everyone should discover and experience. And for me, I do this through playing basketball. So I ask, “What is there to question?”
Since that first knee injury, I have learned the true meaning of the words dedication, desire and devotion. Had I not pushed myself and decided that I was going to play again, I would not be at the point I am now. It’s like anything in life; if you refuse to accept anything but the best, you very often will get it. I remember, vividly, the days when nothing went right and my struggling seemed totally in vain but those were the days that I had to fight the hardest.
To all those people who have ever doubted their dreams, I beg you to believe that there isn’t anything you cannot accomplish if you are only willing to pay the price. From the very beginning, I started thinking, “Why me?” but then I realized I would have to say “Why me?” about all the good things that have happened in my life.
By Nancy Lindell