It was just a second’s difference for Cullman High’s Hannah Shelton.
Ten minutes into the last game of the girls basketball team’s last summer play date, all the senior did was plant her foot wrong. But that one unfortunate move resulted in a torn ACL and meniscus, as well as a sprained MCL and fractured leg.
“I was making my way to the goal, and I had a few defenders come up and stop me, and when I stopped to shoot, it felt like my knee gave out,” Shelton said. “I immediately fell down, and I knew something was wrong. I knew that I was in a lot of pain, but I didn’t think it was going to be my ACL torn.”
She was carried off the floor and made a trip to Brookwood Hospital in Birmingham the next day, where an MRI confirmed the injury’s severity.
Bearcats’ coach Jonathan Hayes witnessed the incident from the sideline and hoped the injury wouldn’t turn out to be anything serious. No one had even touched Shelton.
“She just made a great move, and it buckled, and I felt like, ‘Uh oh,’” he said. “Our worst fears were realized the next day when she got her MRI.”
Shortly after she received those results, she texted Hayes, who in turn called her to talk.
“It made my stomach knot up as soon as I read her text,” he said. “Listening to her voice, I knew how upset she was. I wish I could’ve said some things that could’ve made her feel better, but I couldn’t find those words myself.”
Holly Pond’s Lexy Malone knows all too well what it’s like to tear an ACL. The Bronco, who suffered the same injury to her left knee right around Christmas last year, was with her team at the play date that Cullman participated in and heard when Shelton was hurt.
“I had just walked in, and they said that a girl hurt her knee,” Malone said. “That made me sick to my stomach that she hurt herself like I did. It’s not fun at all, and it’s not a good thing to go through.”
Malone asked her coach, Scott Adams, if he could follow up on Shelton’s injury with Hayes, but the flow of the day prevented him from getting more information.
“I was going from one gym to the next,” he said. “I didn’t even know it was a knee injury until one of my players texted me and told me what had happened. I just saw them carrying her off the floor and thought it could’ve been a knee or an ankle or something like that.”
At this point, the exertion Shelton can put on her right leg is very limited.
“My therapist gave me a few things that I can do where I hold on to people and shift weight on to my bad leg,” she said. “But I can’t walk on it.”
Shelton is currently spending the week at the beach with her family. However, the inability to walk has made for a limited vacation.
“There’s not much I can do, but we do have a pool, and I’ve been able to get on a float and get in the pool, but I haven’t been able to make it to the beach,” she said.
When she returns from the beach, Shelton will revisit the doctor and schedule a date for surgery.
Malone still hasn’t been fully cleared to participate, so her summer workouts have been limited. She had surgery in January, and the main thing she’s working on now is rebuilding the muscle in her quad, which is what she would advise Shelton to stay conscious of.
“If she wants to get released and get playing back soon, maybe in four months, she’s going to have to do a lot of quad strengthing because it goes away just like that,” Malone said. “It’s hard to build back.”
The two girls are both rising seniors, and Adams noted the main difference between their injuries was that Malone’s happened when she was a junior. But for Shelton, this injury could keep her off the court for most — if not all — of her last season.
“If Lexy had not been a junior, I don’t know what we would’ve done with her,” Adams said. “She was already so devastasted, I don’t know what she would’ve done if she was a senior.
“That’s why my heart goes out to this girl. That makes it so tough because she knows that this late, five months on an ACL, maybe she can come back for some of her season, but it’s going to be an uphill battle.”
Shelton said she hopes to come back after Christmas and finish out the season. Her doctor told her recovery times vary by person, but that it could be anywhere from six months to a year.
“This is my senior year for basketball, and it’s really important to me,” she said. “I’d like to able to play with my team.”
For Malone, regaining her strength physically isn’t the only roadblock. At this juncture, she’s also working on trusting her knee to do its job.
“You’re kind of scared to do stuff,” she said. “I try not to be. They said I probably won’t re-tear it, but you’re still scared. You compensate with your other leg a lot, too. When I’m working out, I don’t put so much weight on it.”
Adams talked about how he advised Malone to write down her goals and keep a positive outlook on her road to recovery. Like the Holly Pond duo, Hayes has confidence in Shelton’s attitude, knowing she’s a strong person.
“She’s a great kid with a tremendous attitude and heart,” he said. “She’ll bounce back. She was pretty upset and shed some tears, but no doubt she’ll bounce back from this and continue her active lifestyle.”
However, Hayes doesn’t expect Shelton to return to the court for any of the 2012-13 basketball season.
“I don’t know any high school kid to come back in six months and be ready for a high school senior season,”he said. “I hope, but that’s up to the doctors. It’s a big blow for us, and I know a devastating blow for Hannah.”
Malone learned a valuable lesson from her tear. If Shelton makes it back for the last few months of her senior season, it’s possible she can learn it, too.
“It makes me have more appreciation to be on the court playing,” Malone said. “I’m going to play harder than ever because you don’t know when you can’t play again. You should give it all you’ve got when you’re on the court.”
‰ Laura Owens can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 258 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.