I fractured my foot on Wednesday, Aug. 30, by falling off a lamppost. It definitely was a freak accident—I had in previous months climbed onto the same lamppost before and jumped off without injuring myself. But this time, I managed to land badly—very badly—on my right foot. At first, I thought it was just bruised, but then I couldn’t put any weight on it without experiencing excruciating pain, so I called Public Safety and went to the hospital. Two wheelchairs, three hospital beds, and one X-ray later I was hobbling on crutches into my dorm room, angry tears in my eyes, and an impending month in a boot. It was a terrible start to the semester.
The first thing I thought when I learned I fractured my foot was: Shit, I’m definitely not going to be able to make that party tonight. My second thought was: Shit, I’m definitely not going to be able to play basketball. I had looked forward to it for most of the summer, purchased a basketball, and knew what times the courts were open. But one moment of messing around on one of the lampposts on the walkway up to Usdan, and basketball became an unreachable dream. At least for four weeks.
When I was in middle school, I played a lot of basketball. I wasn’t very good; in fact, I was objectively bad. But I loved it. I joined the intramural team and played once or twice a week against other teams in the middle school league. Every morning I was on the court. People rarely passed the ball to me, but when they did, I was unstoppable. Or, at least, until a teacher whistled at me for traveling.
In high school, I came really close to joining the team. My best friend and I used to join the pick-up games at the outside courts behind the gym, where kids would play during lunch. There were always two or three games going on, and we’d try to figure out which group of high school boys would object the least to two girls joining their game. We never found a team to stick with for more than a game, preferring instead to drift in and out of various teams, playing our hearts out, and then disappearing. We made a lot of shots. We were always better than they thought we were going to be. This isn’t because we were particularly good (though my friend ended up actually joining the basketball team, eventually getting on varsity), but because we were very determined to play since we rarely got chances. But when we did, we took them and ran with them.
I never joined the school’s team. I would have had to quit swimming, and I had been swimming for half a decade and had been on varsity since freshman year. I was on my way to becoming captain. So I put aside basketball, wondering vaguely how things might have been different had I allowed my middle school passion to take hold.
When I got to college, it seemed like suddenly I could play on my own without fear of people judging me for my lack of form or inability to do a lay-up. I was always slightly intimidated by the gym and didn’t own a ball freshman year, so I had to rely on the kindness of friends to be able to play. But I played. I actually played! And I wasn’t very good, but at least I was doing this thing that I loved. On the days I wasn’t playing, I would look wistfully from my spot on some elliptical down at the courts just visible through the glass.
This last summer, I made it a mission to get a basketball and practice before coming back to school. I bought a deflated ball for two dollars at a yard sale and then borrowed my uncle’s bike pump and my neighbor’s basketball fitting to pump it up. I went to the courts by the local high school, mostly with my brother, and shot hoops. We played one-on-one or HORSE, and sometimes he’d go off to do something and I’d practice shooting over and over again. I worked on dribbling between my legs. My brother tried spinning the ball on his pointer finger.
At Wes, two weeks after I fractured my foot and was down to just one crutch, a couple friends and I went down to the gym. I wanted to see if I could manage to at least shoot. We got to the courts and I watched the two of them play one-on-one for a while, and then HORSE. I participated, shot a few times, and mostly missed. I couldn’t jump and I only had one hand. It was rough watching them play and wanting to join them so badly, but knowing that if I joined them, I would risk further damaging my foot and being unable to play for even longer. Really, basketball is the one thing that got me to take this freaking boot and crutches seriously. I haven’t been back to the courts since.
I talk about this broken foot basketball thing like it was the worst thing to have ever happened to me, but when it comes down to it, as much as it sucks that I can’t play gym ball, it’s the actual athletes who are the most affected by injuries. To look past my own experience I asked a couple of athletic friends about the times their injuries have impacted their love of sports. They gave me varying replies.
“The sense of helplessness you feel when you’re unable to contribute to the team when everyone else is working so hard is really frustrating and disheartening,” my friend Zach Turner ’20, who was on the University’s wrestling team, said to me.
I also asked my friend Sarah Mount ’20, who spent a month in a boot last year. She was on the varsity track team at the time, which is a whole different level of commitment than gym basketball. I asked her what that was like, and she expressed similar discontent.
“It sucks,” Mount said. “It sucks, but one of the worst parts is that people don’t realize how much it affects your life, and so everyone’s going about their own lives the same way, and you’re just stuck with a fucking boot. You’re super slow, and trying to go on, and people feel empathetic, but they don’t understand. And it’s sad and depressing.”
But then I asked my friend Meg Cummings ’20, who ran cross country in high school. Her response slightly differed from the previous two.
“In my sophomore year of high school, I received a stress fracture to my right tibia, which, unfortunately—I say sarcastically—forced me to sit out the cross country season,” she said. “And since I’m a terrible cross country runner, and I hate running more than anything in the world, it was actually kind of a blessing?”
My friend clearly doesn’t have the same relationship with running as I have with gym basketball, probably because running is horrible and I hate it, and basketball is fun and I love it. For me, this hasn’t been much of a blessing.
But I’ve got a good basketball, friends who are willing to go to the courts with me, and almost three more years of access to the gym. Unless I’m a total idiot and climb on another lamppost or something, my foot isn’t going to be broken forever. And I know it’s healing—I should only have about a week left in this boot before my foot can once again experience the bliss of sneakers. Sneakers! And only a few days left until those sneakers can feel a recently-waxed basketball court, and me running and shooting hoops.
Emmy Hughes can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @emmyughes.