St. Thomas University student Abby Draper said a lot of people overlook the mental side of physical injuries after tearing her ACL last fall. (Billy Cole/AQ)

Ten minutes into her first shift of the last game of the pre-season in October 2019, then-rookie Abby Draper leapt in the air for the offensive rebound. In a matter of seconds, her rookie season ended before it even began.

“It was excruciating pain,” said Draper. “I couldn’t bend or extend my leg at all.”

Draper tore her anterior cruciate ligament. One year later, she’s gone through surgery, rehabilitation and a pandemic. She’s still re-habilitating both physically and mentally, striving to get back on the court.

The fall

Draper is now in her second year at STU, majoring in history with a double-minor in criminology and psychology. Growing up in Ottawa, the Tommies point guard has been balling since the sixth grade. Draper said one of the biggest influences on her game was her old trainer, Jamil Abiad, who played in a semi-pro league in Lebanon.

“He really helped influence me and guide me,” said Draper. “Every two weeks, I would practice and play against Jamil.”

Not only was the physical pain tough for Draper but so was the mental pain, which most people overlook. She said there was a huge mental aspect of watching her teammates grow as players while she was sidelined.

“While I was very happy for them … it was still really disappointing that I didn’t get to necessarily share in that happiness of growing as a player,” said Draper.

The climb

Two months after the injury, Draper finally got diagnosed after waiting for MRI results. She said getting an appointment for surgery was tough. She couldn’t get surgery fast enough in Fredericton, so she went back to Ottawa to go under the knife.

Draper said the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the world pushed back her recovery timeline since her surgery in February. She said she couldn’t get into physiotherapy until August as her physiotherapist closed. Until then, she followed at-home exercises and biked to and from work, building back muscle in her leg.

“I lost like 10 pounds and my legs were like sticks at that point,” said Draper. “It took a few months to walk properly again and several months to finally be able to extend my leg.”

Though she’s been unable to play, she said she’s still close with her teammates and coaches. Draper said she and Tommies’ head coach, Fred Connors, message each other every few days to help her stay connected with the team.

Marvelous connection

Connors is entering his 18 year as the head coach of the Tommies. While recruiting Draper to play for STU, Connors said they found a lot in common.

“I’m a bit of a comic junkie and we kind of connected that way,” said Connors. “We both love Marvel [and] we love the Avengers.”

Since the pandemic hit, Connors said he and the team planned summer training separate from each other. He said one of the main focuses was wellness and players being active and staying active.

Connors said he had the players more involved in planning their home workouts than in previous years. He added he couldn’t send a universal team work out because players are in different environments and circumstances.

“Some would have access to a weight room … [some] didn’t have that,” said Connors. “We ended up navigating it by just creating individual workouts for everybody.”

When it comes to recovering and returning from injuries, Connors said many doubts pop up. He said players worry about doing too much or not enough.

“[Draper] is a fantastic kid,” said Connors. “She’s an excellent basketball player, but we just want our friend to stop being in pain more than we want her back as a basketball player.”

Over a year later, Draper is finally able to jog again and is looking to get shots up in January or February. She said it was paramount to have a support system during her recovery.

“My boyfriend and my parents have been the utmost help to me.”