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Red badge of courage

Surgery scare adds to determination

February 04, 2007|by BOB PARASILITI

Cara Thompson is a decorated basketball player.

Well, sort of.

It's not exactly the memorabilia the North Hagerstown senior guard had in mind, like a state championship trophy or an all-state honor. ... Those are hopefully yet to come.

For now, the decoration is a three-inch scar on the front of her left knee - the distant, yet not-so-distant, memories of her summer filled with rehabilitation of a fluke ACL injury.

The decorating scar is her personal badge of accomplishment, and yet, it is also a reminder of some dark times.

"It's both," Thompson said after an evening practice at North High. "It's a badge because it is something to show off and show that I can overcome something that set me back. But, it is also a reminder to show how low things can go."

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If the scar would disappear, Thompson wouldn't mind - she admits rubbing cocoa butter on it in hopes of erasing it - but the reason she has it will probably last longer. Along with the scar came a knee brace and a few black coverings to protect the leg while making it look like something out of a science fiction movie.

It all started in December 2005. Thompson was routinely doing the things she normally does on a basketball floor when everything changed.

"It was a freak accident," she said. "There was no contact. I got down the floor, jumped up and landed and then something popped."

It was all so hard to understand. Thompson didn't get hit, undercut or even turn an ankle like every sports fan has seen on replays of some game somewhere. One stride down the floor was a step in the wrong direction.

"I was told that it happens sometimes," Thompson said. "I think it started when I was playing soccer. I remember like hyperextending my knee a little during a game against Smithsburg. I didn't think anything about it. I guess I did something and it took a year to show up."

Suddenly, that invincibility to injury many athletes feel was gone.

"Basically, I couldn't believe it," Thompson said. "I didn't know why it happened to me. But, they say everything happens for a reason. I just worked hard to get back. ... I still don't know what the reason was."

The reason to fight back was a little more obvious. Thompson wanted to play.

"Sports are my life," Thompson said. "I've been playing since I have been 4. It was going to be my senior year, my last season as a Lady Hub and the last year that I could wear the jersey. I had to do it."

Despite the injury, Thompson had a little measure of luck on her side. First, while no ACL injury is a good one, she suffered the best one she could have had. Second, her basketball coach at North, Barry Brown, is a physical therapist.

"She tore the ACL, but what was good is that there were no other structures of the knee involved," Brown said. "There is no good thing about the injury, but when there is nothing else involved, it is much better for the surgeon and for the rehabilitation. Those are the physical things of the injury, then there is the psychological part."

The drive to play again was Thompson's driving force to rehab.

"It was tough," she said. "While everyone was out doing things during the summer, I was spending five days a week on a treadmill with Coach Brown."

The sacrifice paid off. Within nine months, Thompson was playing again, only she was dribbling the ball with her feet instead of her hands. She played soccer for the Hubs in the fall.

"I was very pleased she decided to play soccer, even though we knew she would struggle for the first half of the season," Brown said. "It takes time to bounce back. Coach (Rick) Aleshire helped with bringing her along step by step."

Then came November and the biggest test of all - getting back on the basketball court. Thompson tried to help the process by getting a custom-fitted brace, which was lighter and tighter to the leg.

Still, it came down to performing and Brown didn't wait long to challenge Thompson. North played Thomas Johnson in the home opener and Brown assigned Thompson to guard TJ forward Kem Wilson, who has signed to play for Wake Forest next season.

"I was watching her in practice and she had no limitations," Brown said. "She jumped in and started. She was hungry and wanted to get back into it. This was her senior year. I said she had one shot at a player that was going to Wake Forest and I needed to know where she was."

North lost 56-53 while Thompson held Wilson to 10 points, with six coming late in the game. Still, it was a successful night for Thompson.

"That was a major boost of confidence," Thompson said. "I knew Kem was good. I went out and just planned to play defense. I thought if I can play well defensively, I'll be doing what I needed to to help us win."

The Hubs are 14-2 with Thompson scoring 11 points with 6.6 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 3.5 steals a game. She was sailing along until North got a scare on Jan. 13. That's when Thompson suffered a badly sprained ankle in a loss to Boonsboro.

"I went to block a shot and came down and turned it," she said. "I said, 'Why me?' It ended up being just a sprain. I'm becoming a pro with them. It's just ice and elevation. I'm starting to feel like wrap me in bubble wrap and let me play."

Thompson came back quickly. She had to. She had been through the worst of it with the knee surgery. Besides, she would like to make all the work she needed to do be worthwhile.

"Hopefully, the best is still to come," Thompson said. "With this group, if we stick together, the best is still to come. I'm glad, happy and relieved, (the knee injury) is over. I want to move on and keep on playing and not look back."

That will be a lot easier if the Hubs manage to win a trophy to take the place of the one that is on Thompson's knee.

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