Wednesday was a day I will always remember. It is the day I took my first steps on my right foot in nearly three months.
Those steps, aided by a cane, meant mobility, independence — and something else, too. I’ll return to the Arizona women’s basketball beat this week, something I wasn’t sure was possible this season.
I was involved in a terrible car crash in October. Since then, I’ve been on injured reserve.
Basketball hasn’t been far from my mind the entire time. The car wreck occurred on Oct. 19, as I was driving to the Wildcats’ Media Day. After I crossed the intersection of Fort Lowell and First Avenue, traveling east, a minivan pulled out in front of me to take a left onto Fort Lowell. The driver never saw me. I had no time to swerve; instead, I hit the brakes.
My Mazda Miata was totaled. Two bones in my right ankle were crushed.
As my orthopedic surgeon told me, it was not an ordinary fracture. My fibula and talus bone were both broken, making recovery much, much tougher. My doctors and I originally planned for surgery, followed by four months off my foot completely and then, finally, physical therapy.
But then I ran into some complications, and surgery was postponed for a month.
By then, doctors said my ankle was healing on its own. Surgeons put one plate and seven screws in my ankle and prescribed a shorter rehab assignment — six weeks of rest followed by physical therapy. During my recovery, I’ve worn a protective a boot, a splint, a cast for (two weeks) and finally a special boot that allowed me to flex my foot. For the last two weeks, I haven’t had to wear anything to protect my foot or ankle.
I can walk, but do so with the aid of a walker. My recovery isn’t done yet: Over the next few months, I have to build up strength, increase my range of motion, walk consistently with the aid of a cane and then, finally, walk with no assistance.
As recently as a week ago, I wondered if I’d reach my goal of covering Arizona’s next homestand. I was making a little progress each day, but couldn’t walk yet. Then I woke up Monday and my foot and ankle felt much better. Wednesday, I had a breakthrough: I did a new exercise that the therapist thought I would have trouble doing. I didn’t. He gave me a cane and asked me to walk 30 feet to the chair. Just like that, I did it.
The experience has given me new insight into what athletes face during recovery.
Thursday night, Oregon’s Bol Bol rolled into McKale Center on a knee scooter. I was amazed that he traveled, much less was able to use that scooter. I couldn’t do either — not now, and not two months ago. I figured he was probably tired just getting from the locker room to the court. Bol has a long road ahead, and rehab will be hard. In the coming months, Bol plans to walk again unaided, and to play in the NBA.
My next set of goals aren’t as ambitious. I want to walk unaided, go grocery shopping, take out the garbage, get the mail and work out again.
I kept up with my beat by streaming the Wildcats’ games, watching on TV and listening on the radio. I’ve listened to all the press conferences and talked to coach Adia Barnes and the team by phone.
The different perspective has allowed me to notice Arizona’s game-by-game improvements, both as a team and individually. Each game, I focused on different players. Try it sometime: Take a quarter and focus on Sam Thomas. You’ll see her playing tight defense, getting deflections and steals and forcing her opponent to take off-balance shots.
Or watch Dominique McBryde, who is always in the right position, denying her opponent and bodying up. Or watch Cate Reese pull down defensive rebounds while her opponents scatter away. Or watch Aari McDonald, and how she owns teams with her quickness.
Of course, I have questions, too. It’s part of a reporter’s DNA.
How hard is it to play with someone as fast as McDonald? Does it change how teammates get set for their shot? Is this why it is taking a while for Arizona to find a second, third and fourth scorer?
When will the consistency come? Barnes said that to keep winning they can’t rely on McDonald scoring 30 points every night. Friday night the Wildcats had a more balanced attack, and Reese and Thomas scored in double figures. Can they keep this up?
And, while we’re at it, how good can this team be? The Wildcats have exceeded expectations, but there are still 12 regular season games left to play.
I am excited to find the answers to these questions, and watch the team practice and play games at McKale. I’ll be walking slowly and with a little help. But I’ll be there.