To the Sacred Heart Girls Basketball Team,
Last week we took team pictures. These pictures were unlike any pictures I have ever taken. For me, they didn’t just represent our season, but instead, they also captured our spirit.
Our team mantra this year has been, “And still I rise.”
While it’s a lesson I wanted to teach you, it’s also one that each of you has watched me live.
On November 8, 2020, at about 3:00 pm, I went to the mall on my motorcycle. It was a beautiful day. I remember I was about a mile from my house on my way home when traffic was coming toward me. Then, all of a sudden, I felt excruciating pain in my left leg. When I arrived at the hospital, they did an emergency blood transfusion to stabilize me before they amputated my left leg.
That day, I blacked out after a truck hit me. I am lucky even to be alive, but losing my leg has been devastating.
My whole life, people have known me as an athlete. I was a three-sport athlete in high school and college. Even as an adult, I dabbled in some semi-pro full-tackle football and I have coached softball and basketball.
For the longest time, I couldn’t even look at my amputated leg. I asked people to cover it with blankets because I didn’t want to come to terms with it being gone. To this day, it is still difficult when I walk past a full-length mirror and see what other people see when they look at me.
But I want you to know how much all of you have helped me throughout these last few months.
My first week home from the hospital, I laid down in a dark room and was not in a good place. During that time, our captains came to my house with balloons and brought me a giant card signed by all of you. Constantly, I heard from all of you, wishing me well and telling me how hard you were working.
During my low moments, I thought about how I tell you girls to get one percent better every day and push through adversity. As I watched you put in the work and develop your skills from afar, I didn’t want to be a hypocrite. Each of you helped me realize that instead of feeling sorry for myself, I had to fight hard to return to our team. That is why I promised, whether I could walk or not, I would be back.
Thanks to Covid, the start of our season kept getting delayed. But shortly after we found out that the season would definitely start February 1st, doctors told me they couldn’t clear me to be on the court. My wounds were still healing. I went into creative panic mode. Our assistant coaches, who have been amazing, suggested I coach virtually. As a team, we all made it work.
However, after coaching eight games via technology, on February 26th, I finally returned to the court. My first game was at the same gym against the same opponent as the last game I coached before my injury. Rolling up to the game in a wheelchair was emotional. I had my moment when I approached the building. I had my moment wheeling into the locker room. I had my moment when I went out on the court. But when the game started, I switched right into coaching mode. It was pure joy. Mentally, it was like my accident never happened. I was back in my element again – back to my happy place with all of you.
Our team reignited that passion within me and got my brain working again – not to mention we won.
As the season has gone on, there certainly are some days that are harder than others. One day, I had a prosthetic appointment right before practice. It was a difficult appointment, where I started to cry because I was frustrated and in pain. I didn’t want to show up at practice upset. So, I acknowledged my emotions and then focused on motivating and preparing our team for our next game.
Throughout the last four months, I have had to dig really deep. As a result, I have become more comfortable looking at and taking care of my amputated leg. I have tried downhill skiing while starting to immerse myself in the adaptive sports community. I still yell and scream from the sidelines just like I did in previous seasons. Through losing my leg, I learned that I have more strength than I ever knew existed.
This week, I am starting physical therapy to learn to walk with a prosthetic. I am so motivated because I want to be a living and breathing reminder for all of you that you can be strong in your toughest moments. When you get knocked down, you can get back up again. While you can’t always choose your circumstances, you can decide your attitude. It’s up to you how you react to adversity.
So with that said, last week, when we took a team picture, I decided to surprise you. The photographer moved you in a spot so you couldn’t see me get out of my car. Without anyone noticing, I put on my new prosthetic leg. Then, with a cane in hand, I walked for the first time outside of a doctor’s office. When I started walking towards all of you, you all had a shocked look on your faces. Once it registered what was going on, you started clapping and cheering for me. Walking outside for the first time in a prosthetic was painful. I didn’t even know I could walk as far as I did, but I was determined to try for all of you.
See, this is still very much the beginning of my journey without my left leg, but it is also just the start of the rest of your lives.
When you look back on these pictures, I wanted and want you to remember that in life, you may be alone when the world knocks you down, or in my case, when a truck crashes into you, but the reason we can always still rise is because we do it with and for each other.
Thank you for inspiring me.