If you know me then you know I haven’t had the best of luck with staying healthy over my college career.
It’s been difficult at times, but I have to- and truly do believe that I’ve gained more than I thought I ever lost.
Nothing you truly want in life comes without obstacles. No one goes through life unscathed and for me, these injuries have been the toughest thing I’ve been faced with in my life.
^^ Side note: I’ve said this since DAY 1- How freaking blessed am I that an injury is the most difficult thing that’s happened to me?! I mean honestly- I have been so privileged and fortunate to have a close-knit family, financial comfort, and a probably 900-page-long list of other blessings in which I’ve done nothing to deserve. I’ve recognized all of those things throughout this process- and sometimes it’s hard because it’s easy to think we have it so bad, but in reality, cherishing what you have keeps even the toughest of times in perspective. I’ve got it good and I know it.
Anyway. I’m focussed now.
For this first post I’ll just give you a quick background of what actually happened. I feel like no one outside of my bubble that is my family and Drake basketball knows, so here is the shortest version I can give:
Following my freshman season (’14-’15) we were one week into lifting and small group basketball workouts when I began having pain in my left knee. I iced and stretched with the hope it was just regular athlete soreness. During a workout a few days later, we were doing turn-around shots in the post. The pain became too sharp and intense to ignore. I got an MRI and it showed a stress fracture on my tibial plateau.
I was instructed to sit out and do physical therapy for 6-8 weeks and that should be enough time to heal.
Fast forward to summer of ’15- I was still having pain. I continued PT. I got so far as being released to jump, but the deep, dull aches continued. Having bone pain does not feel good let me tell you.
I went back to the doctor twice that summer, got another MRI and still the fracture was the only thing they detected. The location of my stress fracture was extremely rare and in one of the most difficult places to heal- so I had to be patient.
By late July I was a mess. I was frustrated, in pain, and feeling so bad that I had just missed four months of opportunity to work on becoming a better basketball player. For anyone who knows me- I love the grind. My favorite place to be is in the gym working on my game. I had a plan as soon as season ended: I was going to get in the best shape of my life and put everything into basketball. I hated how we ended our year and I never wanted to feel the way that I felt after that last game again.
After returning from vacation during our time at home, I drove up to Des Moines to see the doctor. He suggested that we go in for a scope to see what was going on. Season was approaching and moves had to be made.
He was expected one of three things:
1) Nothing- still just the stress fracture and we let it heal itself.
2) Some torn ligament- I was told if I woke up from surgery with a brace it was ACL, meniscus or something like that. Recovery time TBD.
3) Some kind of bone/cartilage damage that would require a microfracture surgery. No brace, no cast but a 6-12 month recovery period. (Side note- he really didn’t think it was going to be this- this was worst-case scenario).
So the next day, August 20th 2015, I went into surgery- feeling relieved because we’d finally get answers. Sure enough I woke up, felt down my leg and I had no brace. The nurse came over and asked what my pain was on a scale of 1-10, and I responded with, “7. What surgery did he do?”
She checked the chart, came back and said, “Oh, it looks like a microfracture- does that sound right to you?”
My heart sank. I laid there for what seemed an eternity until the doc came over and affirmed my worst fear.
It was a year of waiting. For a microfracture you are completely non-weight bearing for 8 weeks. THAT was a struggle (especially for someone who lived on the second floor of a building with no elevator). And then you wait. It’s not like I was strengthening a ligament- I was literally just waiting for the pain in my bone to go away.
I spent that whole season on the bench- viewing the game from a totally different lens. I had tough times, but I had really good times too. I missed being on the floor with my team, but I loved be able to see them play and watch our vision continue to become a reality. (Not to mention I could’ve earned All-American cheerleading honors. I was good.)
Fast forward a year and a half to summer of ’16. I was fully released to play after a whole summer of PT and training myself to trust my knee again. In the beginning of August, a few days short of one year after my surgery, our team headed overseas. I played the 3 games in Italy and had zero problems. It felt absolutely amazing to be on the court. Granted I was rusty, but it was still a blast.
Now skip to preseason workouts heading into the ’16-’17 season. Things went well the first few weeks, but the pain in my knee started coming back. It wasn’t the same pain exactly, but certain movements irritated it and at the end of the day it would just ache. We modified lifting and my participation in workouts until we got the pain under control.
6 days into the first week of practice we were finishing up with a full court drill. Transition offense back to transition defense. I jumped in, went down the court on offense just fine, came down on D, got a deflection, planted my knee to grab the ball and secure the steal and I felt a few pops and I was down. The last rep of the last drill of practice and I wound up crawling off to the sideline.
The next day I got an MRI and the following day the doctor called us in at 7am to go over the results. The MRI showed that I have patella alta. All that means is my knee cap rides higher in my knee and does’t fit as well in the grove in which the patella is supposed to sit. It’s genetic and because of it, my knee cap is susceptible to subluxing- meaning it falls out of place laterally and then goes right back in causing trauma to the knee- and that’s exactly what happened.
That’s a 6 week recovery- no surgery needed, just a lot of rehab.
But when I do something I do it big and when my patella subluxed a piece of cartilage broke off with it. It was relatively small, but required arthroscopic surgery to remove it. I was literally under the knife 5 hours after hearing the news. We were on a mission- I was going to play this season and we had no time to spare.
And again, I went in blind. If the piece of cartilage was still was partially attached to the bone the doc would’ve had to repair it. That’s a year long recovery… So when I woke up from surgery with no brace- meaning all he did was take out the cartilage, I was ecstatic. It was October 20th- 8 weeks of recovery? Ain’t no thaaaang. I’d be back well before the conference season.
**Side note: He also peeped on the microfracture while he was in there and that baby healed to perfection. I never had any doubts, but it’s always nice to know for sure that a surgery like that was successful. It’s the little things. (Even though that’s quite a big thing.)**
I missed 4 games but after 19th months of sitting- I was back on the court.
Fast forward to March- we had just won the conference tournament and let me tell you there is no better feeling. A 13-point deficit at half, a buzzer beater at the end of regulation, sealing the victory in overtime against our instate rivals… I mean that is the championship game you dream about. It was an amazing moment in time for all of us.
The NCAA selection committee placed us in the Lexington region. As a 10-seed we were to play Kansas State in Manhattan, KS. Being only 2 hours from home- I was extra stoked. We all were.
I battled knee pain all year which was to be expected due to the surgery that I had in October. However, the week leading up to the MVC tourney and after we got home- I had no pain. None. I hadn’t felt that good since Italy. Not to mention it was March and we were dancing- so safe to say it was one of the happiest of times.
In practice the morning before we left, I felt energized and just ready to prepare to win our first game. We went into a closeout drill and I planted onto my left knee laterally and again I felt a few pops and went down immediately.
We iced, taped, massaged, elevated… everything you can think of we did from Thursday to Saturday so I could play.
It was just going to be a matter of how much pain I could withstand if I was to play or not. It hurt and I struggled emotionally, but mentally I knew I was going to be able to play and had to get my mind right in order to do so.
I had no doubt that when that ball went up I was going to be ready. I was going to forget about it and the adrenaline was going to take over.
I made it maybe 45 seconds until I gave the signal for my coaches to take me out. I tried. I swear I tried. With each step I could feel my knee cap going out and back in, out and back in. It was too much.
I came out, strapped on some ice, and gave everything I possibly could to my team.
We lost the game and just like that the season was over.
As expected, my patella subluxed again. I had some options to choose from in how I wanted to treat it, but settled on an mPFL reconstruction. That’s the ligament that holds your knee cap in place.
I went into surgery on March 29th and it went as well as anyone could’ve hoped for. My pain is finally starting to dissipate. I should be walking by next week without crutches and the grind will continue. It’s anywhere from a 4-6 month recovery, so I’m planning on being back in August stronger and better than ever. I can’t wait- but I have to take it day by day.
If you made it to the end of this congrats and thank you. That was essentially a novel.
Like I said earlier- we are all faced with battles we have to fight in order to keep our dreams alive. You realize how much you want something when your will to get it is truly tested. Trust me- there were days I wanted to quit basketball- completely give up and walk away from everything I’ve ever known…
But there’s something that keeps you going. Sometimes painful things are life’s way of teaching you lessons you didn’t think you needed to know. (Amy Poehler said that, not me… Knope for President 2020). Knowing that however, doesn’t necessarily make it easier- but it’s a starting point to shift the way you look at what’s happening to you and around you.
I sat down with our athletic director Sandy Hattfield Clubb for an interview for an assignment I had and at one point she told me this:
“I believe that when things don’t work out, they don’t work out in the absolute best way.”
I bring this up because it’s absolutely describes how I’ve committed to approaching this situation. Sometimes you gotta work a little harder, get a little creative, and get a little bit thicker skin- but things work out just as they should and you are always exactly where you’re supposed to be.
From the beginning I told myself that I would use this as a learning experience. I wanted to learn everything about the game, my team, and myself that I could. I was forced to slow down, take a step back, and realize what it is that I wanted to do and who it was I wanted to be.
Did I handle every day with grace, thankfulness and positivity? Absolutely not. I would say most days I didn’t- especially in those first 2 surgeries. I’m not proud to say that but it’s a reality and I’ve grown from it… So now as I sit here with a massive brace on my leg after round 3 and I can be positive and grateful for my experiences because they are my own and they are helping me move toward the person I’m supposed to be. (And 3rd times the charm, right?)
I hope if you were at all interested in what the heck has been going on with my knee in the past 2-ish years- you got what you were looking for. After my last surgery I apparently told my parents and the nurses that I am going to write a book so maybe this is the start. Gotta love pain meds.
I can’t promise anything is going to be organized in any logical fashion but stay with me if ya’d like. I’d love to share my journey.