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Overcoming Sports Injuries is both Mental, Physical Challenge

George Washington University's women's basketball team during a practice
George Washington University's women's basketball team during a practice

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Tala Hadavi

Women are more prone to sports related injuries than men, but overcoming one season-ending injury after another can be a serious mental and physical test for just about anyone.

Nicole Ryan, 23, is a 6th year senior basketball player at American University in Washington. She grew up in an athletic family in Florida. And from the very first time she stepped onto the court as a four year old she knew basketball was going to be her one and only love. But with that love, came a lot of pain.

"After my freshman year in high school I broke my hand. The next year I tore my hamstring. The following year I tore my ACL [anterior cruciate ligament]. I came to American [University] -- I had two stress fractures in my shin my Freshman season… that summer I had a torn meniscus and another stress fracture so I had surgery and I was put in a boot.  [During] my sophomore year I played I broke my wrist, came back strong ready to go for my senior season and tore my Achilles [tendon]," recalled Ryan.

While Ryan may be an unusual case, Orthopedic Surgeon David Higgins says season-ending injuries among women are more common than most people may realize.

"They've done a lot of studies in particularly knees that women are probably eight to ten times more likely to tear their ACL's, their anterior cruciate ligament, than men are.  What has been the most prevalent problem with women having a greater incidence of ACL tears has really been their lack of training.  But it's not because the women don't want to train. It's because the culture has not been there," noted surgeon Higgins.

Ivy Abiona plays basketball at George Washington University, also in Washington. She plays on a full scholarship, but has paid a price physically. After two full years of rehabilitation to both knees, Ivy has remained true to a simple approach.

"Either way, it's going to hurt, so you might as well get through it," said Abiona.  "I just kind of took that as my motto or theme through the whole rehab process. And just went with that and kept on going."

Abiona's coach Michael Bozeman has great admiration for her hard work.

"That young lady is the epitome of hard work and sacrifice," said Bozeman.

Nicole's coach LaTonya Watson is full of admiration as well.

"It's a really tough road, Nicole unfortunately understands that tough road," noted Watson.

Both Nicole Ryan and Ivy Abiona now know their injuries have made them stronger.

"This process has been really difficult," said Ryan.  "And I think that it has definitely made me who I am. I mean having something taken away that I loved so much. Its proved a lot to myself what kind of person I am and what I can overcome."

As positively as these women have approached these injuries, the question remains… could they have been prevented? And if so, how?

"[It] all has to do with two big things. The prime one is the strength training.  And then also the skills that they are teaching women that they weren't doing quite as much 10-15 20 years ago," explained surgeon Higgins.

Whether or not Ryan and Abiona go on to play professional basketball, they are more prepared for whatever the future holds.  For now, it's just one more year of healthy college basketball.

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