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Unleashed: Captains Bonded Through Recoveries
Release: 12/26/2012
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Dec. 26, 2012

By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing

Click here to receive Gregg Bell Unleashed via email each week.

SEATTLE - The Huskies' men's and women's basketball teams are back at practice following Christmas breaks.

That means their senior captains are back on their shared, inspired paths - sharing the same, indispensible support group.

Abdul Gaddy's and Kristi Kingma's have been lonely, grinding roads, ones that have taken them through more training rooms and weight rooms the last two years than they ever wanted to see.

Their shared journeys have bonded Gaddy, from Tacoma, and Kingma, from Mill Creek, despite them being on different teams with opposite travel schedules and upbringings from opposite ends of Puget Sound.

"Abdul is such a great guy," Kingma told me after one of her recent comeback games. "He's so encouraging, especially when he sees me in the weight room. He's always like, `Hey, how you doin'? Keep it up.'"

Both expected to be gone from UW before this year. They are still here after grueling rehabilitations - and the work of the Huskies' athletic training staff -- following reconstructive knee surgeries nine months apart in 2011.

Gaddy is the former top-rated point guard in the country out of Bellarmine Prep High School. He thought he'd be in the NBA by now. But he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee in January 2011.

He returned to the floor that September - the same month Kingma, who has already walked in UW graduation ceremonies, shredded her knee entering what was going to be her senior season.

"It was really great to have him having just gone through it," Kingma said last month, moments after she proved she was truly, finally back by scoring 22 points in the Huskies' overtime win against Seattle University at KeyArena.

That was Kingma's second regular-season game in 20 months, since she tore the ACL and the meniscus in her right knee during an exhibition tour of Scandinavia that Washington took in the summer of `11.

He was like, `Hey, that's going to suck. That's going to suck, too.

"He was like, `Hey, that's going to suck. That's going to suck, too. Yeah, I remember that,'" Kingma, now 22, remembers Gaddy telling her during those lonely days of knee rehab.

"Even more so than that, what was encouraging for me was seeing him get on the court last year - without a brace, and without any trouble - and being the leader of that team, without a doubt. It definitely gave me confidence -- not that I didn't have it -- in my training staff and in my doctors that, `You know what? I'm going to get through this.

"I'm going to do it like Abdul did it.'"

"THE HARDEST THING I'VE EVER BEEN THROUGH"

How Gaddy did it, how he returned as the calming maestro of coach Lorenzo Romar's Dawgs just nine months after he tore his ACL during a practice in January 2011, was by conquering fear.

Then 19, Gaddy admits he was scared. He was scared of the pain. Scared that his college basketball career and his NBA dreams had been shredded with his knee ligaments. Scared that, unlike his knee, he would never be able to repair that career, and that the rehabilitation would never end.

"It was tough. Harder than I thought," Gaddy said.

"That was the hardest thing I've ever been through."

See, Gaddy didn't just tear his ACL. He also tore his lateral collateral ligament in the knee on a hard but routine drive to the basket in practice Jan. 4, 2011, just as his junior year was taking off.

"So it was a little bit more complicated than `just' an ACL reconstruction," said Huskies athletic trainer Pat Jenkins.

It was a little bit more complicated than `just' an ACL reconstruction.

He works primarily with the men's hoops team, which is 8-4 and on a four-game winning streak entering Saturday's test at Connecticut (9-2) in Hartford.

Jenkins and Huskies basketball strength coach Matt Ludwig combined to help Gaddy bull through the pain, the complications and the fear.

Recovering from the LCL tear limited Gaddy's range of motion in the knee during the initial months of rehabilitation more than just a singular, ACL tear would have.

"There were days I was like, `Man, I'm scared to go into rehab today,'" Gaddy said. "I mean, that stuff was kind of painful."

Gaddy spent the first weeks after surgery in a fog from pain medicine. Then, once those clouds lifted, storm clouds rolled in. The rehabilitation intensified. Gaddy was in such searing pain trying to get his knee to bend further in the first months following the surgery, then-team orthopedic surgeon Dr. Chris Wahl - who has become the chief of sports medicine at UC-San Diego -- had to literally knock Gaddy out to get progress.

Four months after the surgery, in April 2011, Wahl put Gaddy under general anesthesia. Wahl then manipulated the knee himself, without Gaddy conscious to resist or scream. The doctor straightened, flexed and turned the reconstructed knee to an extent that Gaddy could not have endured had he been awake.

When Gaddy woke up from the manipulation in April, his knee and his recovery were liberated. They went from frustrating to fantastic.

"He was struggling before that," Jenkins said. "After that, the strength in his leg really started returning. His confidence really started coming back. He could see progress. When he started to see the progress, he really started to work even harder.

"Those first eight weeks for him were probably the most painful of his life."

The pain was so great Gaddy often bucked from the training table and sometimes tried to leave it. At times, Jenkins said, "I sat on him, pretty much seat-belted him to the table" to complete exercises.

Those 2½-hour therapy sessions five days each week often left Gaddy in tears. When it did, Jenkins would put Gaddy in a private room away from fellow UW athletes in the training room. And he would throw the point guard a towel for his sobs. Then he would continue the therapy.

"He would tell me that he hated me," Jenkins said.

"For as much tough love as I gave him, when we were done he thanked me for that," Jenkins said. "It made his exercise later so much easier. He knew we were doing it for a reason, so he could come back better.

"I think," Jenkins said with a smile, "that is why he kept coming back."

FIENDISH, OLYMPIAN-LIKE WORK ETHIC TO GET BACK

Jenn Stueckle shakes her head in amazement at each jump shot Kingma is taking and each extra pass she is making this season for UW's women's team, which is 7-3 entering Friday night's game at UC Davis.

Jenkins' trainer colleague saw Kingma discouraged like Gaddy was on some rehabilitation days.

Seems that's usually part of the Rx for ACL tears.

I'm not going to say it wasn't tough on her. But she is one of the toughest kids that I've ever worked with.

"Yeah, I'm not going to say it wasn't tough on her," says Stueckle, the trainer for the women's team who has been cranking on Kingma's knee for the last 15 months, since about a week or so after her surgery.  "But she is one of the toughest kids that I've ever worked with. She just has a bigger perspective of things than other 20-year olds do.

"If I could have 15 of her," Stueckle said through a laugh, "it would make my life really easy. She's just above and beyond. I don't think I've ever seen anyone work as hard as she has. You can see out on the court (now). She looks like the same player.

"She did pretty much everything I asked her to. It's hard over the course of nine months to come in every day and do everything that is asked of you. But she did.

Like Gaddy, Kingma credits her trainer and Rose Baker, her team's strength coach who has been at UW since 2004 for getting her back on the court for this fifth, senior season.

"I wouldn't have gotten through it without them," Kingma says. "They've been so supportive of me and - I don't want to say `tough' - but they knew I could handle it. And they really pushed me.

"Jenn will tell you I pushed the limits every step of the way. Some of that was by design. Some of that is just my personality, to get back as fast as I could."

Gaddy had two more seasons to get back following his ACL tear. Kingma, though, had only this one final shot after redshirting what was supposed to be her senior year last season.

That's why Kingma said she trained "like I was going to the Olympics."

As a marathoner.

"I do realize this is my last year in college, whether or not I play after. I do love basketball so much," Kingma said. "And I have a lot of faith. I knew God had a reason; I didn't tear my ACL for nothing. Something was going to come out of it. That wasn't the end. God has a plan for me. So I knew I'd have another year, and I wanted to make it special."

Statistics say this hasn't been that special a season for Kingma, not with her shooting 30 percent from the field. That is far below the 41 percent she shot as an All-Pac-10 scorer in the 2010-11 season.

But statistics don't know what Kingma's been through, or how much she appreciates simply playing again.

"It's going to come around. But I'm not really focused on that at this point," she said this third regular-season month she has played in two seasons.

"Obviously I'm not making as many shots as I had hoped to make. But, to be honest, this season I've been having as much fun as I've ever had playing just as far as team chemistry and what else I can do for this team."

She says "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't frustrated with shooting 20 percent; that would frustrate any player."

Yet true to her maturity and perspective she adds: "But we're winning."

Each time she is on the floor - practicing or playing - she reminds herself to be "selfless." She knows feeding Davis or Talia Walton for shots maybe more open than hers will ultimately make this a more confident and multi-dimensional team inside the talented Pac-12.

"It's just the experience of I have now, being 22 and feeling so much older than the younger girls," she says. "It's making the extra pass. When I am out there I am thinking, `Just be selfless.'

"And I think that's a life lesson."

From just after her surgery Sept. 9, 2011, through November Kingma says "there were no days off." Seven days a week of rehab and the excruciating pain of bulling through scar tissue.

From December until March she rehabbed six days a week with Stueckle and Baker. When she was cleared to return to the court this spring, she put up close to 1,000 shots a day, every day.

Funny, Gaddy chose that same number as his daily shooting goal in his comeback.

Kingma now thanks Baker for being "my backbone," the one who pushed her on the sides of team practices on the exercise bike, in the weight room.

And not just in the Huskies' weight room. Kingma was on all of her team's road trips last season. Baker would go with Kingma down to weight rooms in hotels in Tucson, Ariz., Boulder, Colo., Moscow, Idaho - wherever - to continue the seemingly endless rehab sessions.

"She'd get me up before the team and have me in the little tiny hotel weight room," Kingma says. "She was just really supportive and has been so supportive coming back."

"I'M BACK! AND IT FEELS SOOOO GOOD!"

Gaddy had never missed a game at any level - not growing up in Tacoma, not while becoming a McDonald's All-American at Bellarmine Prep - before he planted in the lane on a drive to the basket in practice Jan. 4, 2011, and his knee shredded under him.

The next day he sat down next to Romar in the Huskies training room on Jan. 5, 2011, and listened in disbelief as the UW doctor explained the severity of his injury.

"I was shocked, surprised, all in one," Gaddy said.

He asked if he could be come back for the conference tournament in three months.

The doctor told Gaddy he would not play for perhaps a year.

"After that, I just broke down," he said.

Surgery was set for Jan. 17. With Gaddy crying at being told his knee and sophomore season were shredded, Romar began leading his prized point guard back right there in the training room.

"Coach Romar was there to support me, talking to me for a while after it happened," Gaddy said. "He talked to me about taking the right approach. He was saying that `you've got to attack rehab hard. You've got the opportunity to play again. A lot of people don't get that opportunity.'"

You've got the opportunity to play again. A lot of people don't get that opportunity.

Romar credited Jenkins' and Ludwig's conservative, patient work for Gaddy being able to go full go from the day he was cleared for practice Sept. 7, 2011, three days past nine months following his injury. There have been no setbacks and no braces, though Gaddy still does extra stretching and treatment to keep his reconstructed knee maintained.

Gaddy's first game back from the ACL was an exhibition in the fall of 2011. When it was over, he got to the end of the bench and spotted the trainer with whom he'd shared tears, fears, pain, love and hate for up to three hours a day, five days a week for the last 10 months.

Gaddy lunged into a chest bump with Jenkins.

"It was nice to say, `Welcome back,'" Jenkins said.

What did Gaddy learn about himself through this? The answer suggests the benefits of his experience will last far beyond this final season as the Huskies' point guard.

"I just learned to keep pushin'. I learned to push through a lot of things, really," he said. "Sometimes you have to push yourself until you are out of your comfort zone. There are a lot of things in life you have to push through your comfort zone - and just do it. And this was one of those things. Every day I had to come in and just push it, no matter what.

"I found a stronger will in myself."

So did Kingma. Her second game back from her ACL, she played 44 of 45 minutes and made 5 of 7 3-point shots in the second half and overtime. She willed her Huskies to win at Seattle U.

"When I was out there tonight my legs weren't tired," she said Nov. 15, sounding as much surprised as relieved. "It's more learning to go through the motions again. It was good.

"I could go play another game if I needed to."

I think she was joking.

"I'm back. I'm back!" Kingma exclaimed.

She then sighed over all she - and Gaddy, her rehab pal - have been through.

"Oh, I love my teammates and this school so much. I would never want to play anywhere else," she said. "Like I said - I can't say it enough - our coaches are truly amazing. Every minute I can get on the court and play hard for them and I play hard for my teammates.

"I'm back. And it feels sooooo good."

About Gregg Bell Gregg Bell is an award-winning sports writer who joined the University of Washington's staff in September 2010 as the director of writing. Previously, Bell served as the senior national sports writer in Seattle for The Associated Press. The native of Steubenville, Ohio, is a 1993 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He received a master's of journalism degree from the University of California, Berkeley in 2000.

Gregg Bell Unleashed can be found on GoHuskies.com each Wednesday.

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