Injury, it’s a term sports fans, players and coaches loathe.
Injuries have the potential to bench a player for a few weeks or ruin her entire career. It takes true resilience to recover from injuries and get back in the game and requires a true love for the game to attempt to come back from serious injury.
After suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon and two reconstructive knee surgeries, junior forward. Jessica Winfrey from Marion, Ark., was redshirted and lost almost two seasons. While many athletes would throw in the towel, Winfrey worked hard to rehabilitate.
Winfrey’s was especially tough for the team after her stellar performance as a freshman, playing in all 30 games and tallying 10 double-doubles and leading the team in rebounds.
Her love of basketball started at an early age. Winfrey said her dad got her started in basketball and she has loved it ever since.
“He was really big into the whole athletics thing,” she said. “So he tried to get me started early. I was playing basketball at around 6 years old.”
After playing for fun during her childhood, Winfrey said she started to take basketball more seriously when she was 14 years old.
“That’s when I realized I could go pretty far with basketball,” she said. “It kind of hit me that it’s more than just a game, and I needed to run with it because I could get even better.”
Winfrey said she has missed playing basketball during her absence, and it’s hard to see her teammates play when she cannot step out and assist them.
“I probably should feel more nervous,” she said. “But I’m actually so excited and pumped to be playing again. Seeing my teammates out there just makes me want to go out there more and do what I can.
I want to help make them better so we can do it as a team.”
Even though Winfrey is excited to play again, she is still nervous to see how she will perform.
Winfrey said she has a pregame ritual to help her when she feels anxious and gets her focused on the game again.
“I just listen to music,” she said. “It really gets rid of those butterflies and gets me ready. I’m a big fan of R&B and slow music, so I’m not listening to any hard rap or anything like that.”
It has taken her a while to get back in game-shape, but Winfrey says she is anxious but ready to play in a game again.
“I had a lot of stuff to heal from,” she said. “But I think I can say I’m very ready. I’ve got some pent up energy so I’m very excited.”
Head Coach Rob Cross is anticipating her return to the game, and expects to see a better performance from the Racers on the defensive end of the ball.
“It’s great to see her back on the court,” he said. “She’s gone through a lot. She did so much for us with her double-doubles, and she has such a demanding presence. You don’t see many people go after the ball like she does. She’s also a very vocal person. Her return is going to lead to great defensive play, so I’m very excited about it.”
Winfrey’s story as a college athlete is one of dedication and determination.
“I’ve never seen such determination from anyone else,” Cross said. “She’s had three major surgeries and she just bounces back every single time stronger than she was before, if not stronger. She’s in a situation where she’s had the game basically taken away from her so now she knows what it’s like to think she could never play again. She’ll play her heart out.”
Winfrey is ready to finally return from a long absence and show Racer Nation what it has been missing.
Story by Carly Besser, Staff writer.