Kingma Pushes Past Devastating Injury
May 23, 2012
By Sarah Jennings
SEATTLE - Injuries are an unfortunate reality in college athletics, but no athlete is prepared for it when it happens to him or her. Washington women's basketball star Kristi Kingma was looking forward to her senior year, and was poised for a breakout season. She'd been playing well in the spring, and had carried that momentum over to the first few games of the European tour the team had embarked on last August.
Just after halftime in the third game of the five-game foreign trip, Kingma drove hard to the basket trying to get a shot off as the clock wound down.
"My leg just slipped out from under me," Kingma recalled.
She felt her knee shift, but was worried about how the new coaching staff would react to seeing her injured. She convinced herself that it wasn't anything bad and finished the game. But when she returned to the hotel later that night, she knew she had to talk to her coaches.
"It wasn't as painful as most people say it is so that led me to believe that it wasn't an ACL, but I definitely felt it do something that was not normal," remembers Kingma.
When the team returned to Seattle a few days later, an MRI revealed the bad news to her and head coach Kevin McGuff--her anterior cruciate ligament was torn. Kingma was initially in shock, quickly followed by the disappointment of being out for the year and the uncertainty of months of rehabilitation ahead. Fortunately for Kingma, her head coach and trainer were there to offer support.
"Coach McGuff was great about it," she said. "He just looked at me and told me, 'You're strong, we're strong. We're going to get through this and we are going to be by your side.'"
Kingma had surgery on her knee the Friday after the MRI, and by Monday she was in the trainer's room beginning her rehab. Recovering from an ACL tear is a prolonged, draining process, and athletes can feel lonely as they spend day after day in rehab, separated from their team. Kingma faced these same challenges during her own rehabilitation.
"Rehab is the hardest thing I've done," says Kingma. "Not only is it physically tough battling through everything that is going on in your knee, but it's mentally tough to be on the sidelines and watch your teammates and not feel a part of that. It's also hard mentally as far as getting up every day and thinking you are going to want to work hard today because there are days you just don't want to be in there."
Despite these obstacles, Kingma tried to keep things in perspective, keeping in mind that everything happens for a reason. She believes her faith was key in helping her cope with such a devastating injury and the hard work it took to return. Her positive attitude towards her injury and her rehab also allowed her to remain close to the team, even though she couldn't be out on the court competing.
"I just tried to be as positive as I could and let them do their thing and not try to overpower what they were doing," Kingma said.
She described her teammates as a "great group of girls" and credits them for helping her feel included. The support of one teammate in particular, Mackenzie Argens, was especially important during her recovery. Argens and Kingma were members of the same class, and they'd grown close over their Husky careers. Argens had suffered an ACL injury earlier in her career, and was no stranger to what Kingma was going through. Kingma said Argens was with her every step of the way, constantly offering her support and encouragement as she navigated through the daunting process of coming back from an ACL injury.
Meanwhile, McGuff had to prepare the team to play without their most talented player. He approached the team after learning of Kingma's injury, vowing they would come together and make the best of the situation and have a great year. The Huskies did find success in McGuff's first year at the reins, going 20-14 and advancing to the Women's NIT quarterfinals.
For a competitive and passionate player like Kingma, it was, as she said, "excruciatingly" hard to have to watch from the sidelines and not fully be able to share in the team's accomplishments. But the success experienced by this year's team added to Kingma's excitement about next season.
"Seeing how much success they had right of the bat with Coach McGuff definitely motivated me to rehab quicker and get back out on the court with them," Kingma said, "just wanting to feel the atmosphere again and feel the energy from the fans."
Kingma is also looking forward to playing in McGuff's high-pressure, run-and-gun system alongside 2012 Pac-12 freshman of the year Jazmine Davis--whom Kingma calls "a stud"--along with rising redshirt sophomore Talia Walton and incoming freshman Heather Corral.
McGuff is impressed by how well Kingma handled the injury and her rehab and is excited to have his senior leader back next year.
"She just attacked it [rehab] and was incredibly diligent and put in the hard work and made tremendous progress each day," McGuff said. "She has great determination along with terrific character, and I really think she's going to have the best season of her career."
"It's going to be fun to see her play."
With a young squad returning in 2012, McGuff calls the fifth-year senior's leadership "critical." He expects her to set an example for the younger players and be a strong communicator on and off the court.
Kingma believes the experience of tearing her ACL has better prepared her for that role.
"I think having a year off definitely just made me appreciate just how much it takes to be a college basketball player, how much effort it takes, how much work it is, and now that I've seen just how hard it is, I can really appreciate when good things happen, and understand better just how hard you have to work to get there," she said. "We are going to be a young team next year, so I need to be a vocal leader and set an example for how the rest of their years at UW are going to go."
Kingma has recently been cleared to play again, and expects to come back stronger than ever. She is anxious to put that purple and gold jersey on and be back competing with the team. As she looks ahead to next year she has a strong sense that this team has the potential to go as far as they hope, and is confident that the high goals that Coach McGuff has set for the team are obtainable.
"Coach McGuff is the kind of coach that holds you to his standards and makes sure that you achieve what you have the potential to achieve," she said.
Kingma has advice for other athletes who tear their ACL for the first time.
"Don't feel like you are at it alone," she said. "There is always going to be a strong support system around you that's more than willing to help you, and at times it feels like it's a lonely process but if you lean on the people around you it's just so much more rewarding at the end. Work hard through it because the harder you work the better and faster it goes and you really do become a new person at the end of it, with new perspective and a new attitude."
Kingma is proof that attitude can make all the difference.