Columbia River’s Jordan Ryan contemplated quitting basketball after she tore the anterior crucial ligament (ACL) in her left knee during a playoff game in February.
“I have fallen in love with the game for 10, 12 years now and I can’t do it anymore,” she thought. “I can’t keep getting heartbroken like this. It just hurts so much.”
An “incredibly emotional” weekend later, she had a change of heart. Shortly after, she signed to play basketball with George Fox University.
Hockinson’s Sawyer Racanelli and Union’s Brad Lackey suffered similar season-ending injuries in the past year as they, too, look to make the jump to the collegiate level.
Racanelli tore his ACL in a June football practice and underwent surgery in July. He is currently competing in spring camp for the University of Washington.
Lackey tore his ACL in a January basketball game and had surgery in February. He will try to make a return in December for Whitworth basketball.
All three Clark County athletes admitted that while the injury and ensuing rehab was a grueling process, it’s also proven to be valuable in understanding their bodies as they make the leap in competition.
The rehab process from an ACL tear is difficult, albeit with some early rewards. Typically, athletes spend about two weeks in a brace and with crutches. Then, it’s a build from walking with a brace to jogging, taking time each step to slowly increase the flexibility of the knee. Within a month, athletes are walking normally again and quickly, light exercise is possible.
“It does take a long recovery to get back to 100 percent, but 60 percent of that is in the first month,” Ryan said. “That’s especially encouraging.”
For Racanelli, he was aided in his rehab process by the University of Washington. The school’s medical staff performed Racanelli’s surgery and that’s been instrumental in helping Racanelli transition to college since the doctors there are familiar with his situation, he said.
Still, there’s always frustrations and setbacks in every recovery.
“I thought at first it would be a good learning experience,” Racanelli explained. “But quite honestly … after going through it, I never wished it would have happened. You get so used to yourself and you feel comfortable. Now you worry about when you run routes, and you don’t want to have that thought in your mind. Once that happens, then it just makes you think about it constantly.”
Lackey, too, had his struggles mentally with the process.
“The biggest hurdle was just patience,” he said. “Once you start doing everyday things and getting stronger, it’s easy to want to do more than you can.”
One of the biggest benefits in the process, the athletes agreed, has been the increased awareness of what their bodies need.
For Racanelli, who is making the biggest jump in competition from the 2A Greater St. Helens League to the Pac-12, it’s been important to know how to keep his body healthy.
“I always sort of ran through the motions during stretches and got right into it and my body was able to adapt,” Racanelli said. “Now I stretch more and take better care of what I’m doing before I go do it.”
Nutrition, too, has been a big part of taking care of himself, Racanelli said.
Added Lackey: “When you’re exercising, you don’t really think about what you’re eating because you’re burning it all off. That’s been one of the biggest things for me is just getting my diet down and exercising every day.”
Ready for what’s next
Racanelli is hoping to avoid a redshirt and compete for a spot on the game-day roster at wide receiver for the Huskies. He’ll be 13 months post-surgery when the Huskies start the season with Michigan in September.
“In the next two months, I think I’ll be well above 100 percent,” Racanelli said.
It helped Racanelli that he knew what he was training for from the moment he was injured.
“Once you get hurt and come back all the way and get back to your normal self, you then have to get past that and get to the elite level. That’s the hardest part,” Racanelli said. “I skipped a step and went straight to getting ready for the elite level. I had the mindset of ‘I’m a D-I football player and I have to train like it.’ ”
Lackey will be on a more severe time crunch. He hopes to be ready by December for Whitworth’s league schedule, roughly nine months post-surgery for Lackey.
Currently — nearly five months after his surgery — Lackey has been cleared to run in a straight line. He also can do stationary basketball drills, such as set shooting or dribbling.
“I’m just doing stuff I can control,” Lackey said. “Getting my body right, switching my diet, lifting and doing stuff at home. Getting the conditioning now that I can run. Doing that type of stuff is big for adjusting to that next level.”
For Ryan, because of the timing of her injury, she opted to delay the start of her collegiate career and sit out her freshman season. She still plans to graduate and leave George Fox in four years with a film degree. The two-time Regional Emmy Award winner — as part of CRTV’s broadcasting team — has a passion for writing and directing film.
The plan has allowed her to take her rehab slowly. She has been cleared to jump, but not more than six inches and can walk and bike without a brace. She will have about 19 months post-surgery before her planned first collegiate contest.
“In the end, it’s helped me step back and gain a little perspective about what’s important to me and where basketball ranks overall in my life,” Ryan said. “It’s exhausting when it’s the only thing you focus on. So I don’t wish this injury on anyone, but it did happen. And I’m not as mad about it as I was awhile ago.”