Overcoming adversity

It was the first practice of the Oregon All-State team and things were going smoothly for Kirsten Daniel.

Daniel and her teammates from the West Oregon team were in a warm-up scrimmage when Daniel was flying up the court to catch her defensive assignment. As she raced down the court she sharply turned to cut her off and heard a sound that would scare any athlete.

"I felt my knee snap and heard it pop," Daniel said. "I knew at that moment I tore my ACL."

For the second time in five years Daniel had torn her ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), the worst knee injury an athlete can suffer.

For the second time Daniel had to go through the ordeal of surgery and strenuous rehabilitation.

For the second time her athletic career had to be put on hold for a whole year for her knee to fully heal.

Fortunately, for the second time she had the support of her family, friends, teammates and God to help her through this difficult time in her life.

Now, almost two years after her injury, Daniel is a contributor to the SPU women’s basketball team, averaging eight minutes per game and acting as an inspiration to her teammates. This week the team will begin conference playoffs against Central Washington and Daniel will have the opportunity to show her talents.

"Kirsten is the best athlete on the team," said junior forward Jana Holme. "She’s inspired me with her great work ethic and has shown everyone that hard work will get you far."

Many of Daniel’s teammates cannot believe the remarkable shape she is in this year compared to last year when she spent countless hours recuperating and training to get back into playing shape. An ACL tear, which happened to Daniel twice in five years, is quite common among female athletes and takes one full year for the bone and tissue to heal.

Daniel first tore her right ACL during a 1993 basketball game when rocketing to the hoop for a routine lay-up. The eighth grader ran into a girl under the basket and her leg hit the ground hard and wrong.

"At that moment in time when I hit the ground, that was the most pain I’d ever experienced in my life," Daniel said. "I had to be carried off the floor and by the time I got to the lockeroom my knee felt loose and was swollen."

Soon after she tore her ACL, Daniel’s parents took her to ACL specialist Kenneth Singer, who also travels with the University of Oregon athletes. Initially, Singer said that Daniel could not undergo surgery because she was still growing. In order to perform knee surgery the patients growing plates in their knees have to be closed, he said.

Since Daniel knew many girls who did not stop growing until they were in their late teens, she was devastated. A few weeks later, Daniel’s physician had said that she was finished growing and was free to undergo ACL reconstruction.

Rehabilitation included leg lifts to increase flexibility. By the third month she rode a stationary bike, swam and worked the Stairmaster. Within one year at Siuslaw High School, Daniel was starting on the varsity basketball team. She had to wear a protective knee brace to support her knee.

The next four years her life seemed like an athletic fairytale. Daniel was the first girl in school history to earn 12 varsity letters in cross-country, basketball and track and field. As a senior, she was named MVP of Far West League in basketball, averaging 30 points and eight rebounds a contest. Daniel was also named athlete of the year and set a single game scoring record with 48 points.

Then came that practice with the Oregon All-State team, which lasted but 10 minutes until Daniel tore her left ACL. This time the injury was not as painful physically, but more so emotionally.

"I called my parents and was balling because I had torn my ACL again," Daniel said. "I was scared that I was going to get my scholarship taken away and didn’t know what was going to happen next."

Daniel already had signed her letter of intent with SPU the end of her junior year in 1996, so her scholarship was not in jeopardy.

"Gordy (Presnell, head coach of the woman’s team) was very supportive and right away offered to redshirt me to recover and get back into basketball shape," Daniel said.

A redshirt is allowed to practice with the team but is not permitted to participate in games. In collegiate sports there is a maximum of five years of eligibility, one of which includes a red-shirt year in injury or sickness occurs.

On July 7, 1997, Daniel underwent her second surgery again, performed by Singer.

Three months later Daniel was at SPU.

While most students were sleeping, Daniel was jogging early in the morning before classes. She could be seen in the exercise room in Brougham Pavilion working on the Stairmaster for at least 20 minutes before heading for the weightroom. When the team took road trips, Daniel shot in the gym.

Daniel felt like she was the "team manager", the number one supporter of a team that won the Pac-West Division and reached the Elite Eight in the NCAA Division II Tournament.

"Kirsten was very supportive of the team," Holme said. "She was and still is a great player to have in practice because she is such an awesome athlete and challenges us."

Still it was difficult for Daniel to feel like part of the team. Since she could not practice with the team until January 1998, she ran the shot clock or did odd jobs for the team during practices.

"It was really hard because I didn’t get to travel," Daniel said. "During those times is when the team bonds the most."

Holme, who is also Daniel’s roommate, said that on all the road trips one of the girls on the team would call Daniel to tell her how the game went.

"We didn’t want to leave Kirsten in the dark," Holme said. "We all knew it was hard for her so we tried our best to make her fell like she was more a part of the team."

This year Daniel gets into all the games, though her role has changes from dynamic scorer to defensive stopper.

"If someone isn’t playing the greatest defense coach will put Kirsten in," Holme said. "He knows he can stick Kirsten in there and she’ll be all over the opponent."

Daniel no longer wears a knee brace. She threw it away as a sign she has overcome her injury.

"You would have no idea that she tore her ACL because she’s always giving 100 percent and has never favored it," Holme said.

In fact her knees are stronger than they were before. Since Daniel is back at full force this spring, after the basketball season is over she will be throwing javelin for the track team. Her older brother Brent, who is a junior transfer, is also on the men’s track team and is throwing the javelin. An inspiration for Daniel is her dad, Bob Daniel, who in 1972 qualified for the Olympic Trials for track and field.

"I’ve learned that God does everything for a reason," Daniel said of her injuries. "This whole experience has made me a stronger person and athlete."

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Title: Overcoming adversity | Author: Nohe Ka | Section: Sports | Published Date: 1999-02-24 | Internal ID: 496