My story begins, or should I say ended on February 19, 2003—I remember because it was my dad’s birthday. It’s because of him that I fell in love with being on a basketball court in the first place. By the time I got to the third grade success on a soccer field had given me some athletic confidence and my dad embraced it by encouraging me to join a PAL basketball team. At that time there were no girls’ teams, so proving myself on an all boys’ team manifested into a determination to blossom into a respectable player. That was all I needed then to grow into the future basketball player I became—and I became a basketball player, literally basketball became who I was and that is why it became so hard to let it go when I couldn’t play anymore. I played all year round for many different teams. My poor parents inherited the responsibility of having such a daughter; they drove me to all my different practices and games all over New Jersey (I am forever grateful). And my friends, well they were my teammates and when we weren’t practicing together we were making memories together off the court.
Anyways, like I said before, it was my dad’s birthday seven years ago and I was a scrawny sophomore wearing the number 4 on the back of my shiny white Par-High jersey. Though our record was too embarrassing to include here—even seven years later—and we usually didn’t have much of a chance against our opponents, we had already beat Weequahic once that season, and the opportunity to do it again salivated our desire to win the game that night. It was the fourth quarter and while I cannot remember the exact score, I know it was neck-and-neck; I can easily revive
the memory of our biggest fans (our families) anxiously cheering from the wooden bleachers of our grey gymnasium (marked in my head now by an obnoxiously slippery rubber floor). But this story is not significant because of the big “W” we earned in the end (but, woohoo anyway), this story is significant because it abruptly changed my life.
We were only up a few points when their point guard stole the ball and headed down the court on a fast break determined to level out the score. Instinctively I chased her down, jumped up and blocked the ball, but when I landed I heard a POP in my right knee. Scared, I lay on the court, tears streaming down my face. Oddly enough, there was no swelling or discomfort after the initial fall, so I stood up and walked off the court and into the trainer’s room weary of what had just happened. Though I knew something wasn’t right, I could never of imagined I tore my Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) for the first time and would never play competitive basketball again.
Many athletes who have experienced this same injury are able to have reconstructive surgery and return to their activities, however after my reconstructive surgery and nine months of physical therapy I would return to the game only to re-tear the very same ligament again. I would do this twice more for a total of three surgeries on my right knee. Then, six months ago I had my first ACL reconstructive surgery on my left knee and I am currently doing physical therapy to strengthen it for mere everyday activities. I know, I know…I have finally—FINALLY, after four knee surgeries—accepted the fact that basketball is not in the cards for me, however it has been a long journey to grasp this reality—and I certainly have the scars to prove it! The once vivid memory of competitive basketball has faded over the past couple of years, but I still remember the fearlessness of being out there on the court, and the intense heartbeat within my chest— I can even vaguely recall—if I try—the distinct film of sweat that layered my skin when I gave it all I had.
Of course I miss it, but learning to accept that everything happens for a reason has been a steady struggle up my own unique mountain of challenges and it has undoubtedly conditioned me for the rest of my life. Basketball used to be who I was, but now the humility and strength I have gained in overcoming the facade that “basketball was who I was,” has in fact become “who I am.” More important than any lesson I have learned thus far in my 22 years of life is that despite our plans, the Universe, God, Allah, the Great Spirit (whatever you call it) has other plans and humbly accepting the plans put forth for you is not always easy but it is undoubtedly rewarding.
Every morning when I wake up with stiff knees, or painfully climb the stairs, or go out dancing with friends, or quietly sit back in the stands and watch a basketball tournament like this one take place I am reminded of this lesson and while I used to bitterly pout about the events that have taken place in my life, I can now crack a slight smile and thank God in my heart for giving me everything I do have: health, family, friends, food, shelter, education, faith, a job, my own bedroom, a fun wardrobe, a swimming pool, two adorable puppies… and that’s it count your blessings, especially the ones you don’t notice all the time, until the sun shines!