Life happens. Adversity happens. Things happen whether wanted or not, whether good or bad. Imagine having the season of a lifetime and inching closer to achieving a lifelong dream of playing college basketball.
“I was pretty successful,” said Lebreana Clay-Baker, a forward on the Lady Wildcat Varsity Squad at Guyer High School. “It was the best I have ever done and I was the second top scorer on a really good 5A team. I felt like I was a realistic part of a team and had a big role. I just thought that was the best I had ever played.”
Seemingly everything was going right for Clay-Baker until catastrophe struck in January 2012. During a game on a seemingly routine drive to the basket, everything changed.
“I came down wrong and felt a pain in my knee,” Clay-Baker said. “All I could do was just lie there on the ground. I was scared out of my mind.”
Clay-Baker first received a positive report from her doctor and thought everything would be all fine, but she later received bad news.
“When I had my MRI [magnetic resonance imaging], I heard all of the negative news,” she said. “The doctor called my dad and told him that I had a torn ACL [anterior cruciate ligament], sprained MCL [medial collateral ligament], and torn meniscus. He said it would probably take eight to 12 months to rehab fully, six if I was lucky. I literally cried on the spot. It felt like my entire world was coming to an end.”
She said she had played basketball since she was 6 years old.
“My dad wanted me to get involved with sports, so I tried basketball. Basketball stuck, and it kind of filled a hole in my heart,” she said. “So when I couldn’t play basketball, it definitely took a toll on me.”
Clay-Baker’s passion for basketball was also evident to her best friends.
“Basketball means the world to her,” said senior teammate Katy Davis. “She was very emotional at first.”
Clay-Baker’s best friend Bekah Clinton, whom she calls her “sister,” could also see the frustration in Clay-Baker because basketball is such a big part of her life.
“She was really upset at first,” Clinton said. “I was mad for her. She is a really good player, and both she and I were upset that she couldn’t play. I get excited and love to watch her play.”
Clay-Baker admitted how much not being able to play basketball affected her off the court.
“It definitely took a toll on me because I know that nothing can be taken for granted,” she said. “At first I was heartbroken, but in order to come back as soon as I did, you have to have a strong mind and a strong focus.”
Clinton could see boredom in her best friend.
“She couldn’t play basketball and she couldn’t work out,” Clinton said. “She didn’t know what to do. She was bored a lot though. She would stay and watch the team practice and help out to try to pass time. But the hard thing for her was trying to find ways to pass time.”
Clay-Baker had to put the past behind her and focus her attention on getting healthy and coming back for her senior season.
“It was hard. I couldn’t be in the games,” Clay-Baker said. “I couldn’t play and help them out like I wanted to. It was hard watching my team play … especially when we went to the playoffs. All I could do is sit on the bench and cheer. But I had to refocus. I knew that I could come back senior year and try to be better than what I was the previous year. I wanted to end my high school career with a knockout kind of thing.”
Clay-Baker worked hard at rehabilitation, and the results were stunning to all of the therapists and doctors who worked with her.
“Therapy was easy for me,” she said. “It was so routine. We did the same things over and over again. I felt like I wasn’t getting strong enough quick enough. So I worked out outside of therapy with my dad strengthening my knee. The best part was defying all odds and coming back at six months when the doctors told me that was probably not going to happen.”
She returned to play basketball in August.
“She has definitely progressed,” Davis said. “She has jumped back in quick. It’s good to see her back on the court. We are there for each other. On the court it feels like Lebron and D-Wade. We compete hard in practice. It’s hard to complement each other in practice because we are always trying to beat each other.”
Even though she has overcome much adversity, Clay-Baker and her teammates admit she still has some other mountains to climb.
“Mentally and as a person, I definitely think it made her stronger,” Clinton said. “I mean, none of us of course thought this would happen. It shows all of us that we can’t take anything for granted and we need to work hard every day. As a player, she is definitely not where she was before, but she can get there if she keeps working hard.”
Even as she bounces back from the injury, Clay-Baker’s goals haven’t lowered at all.
“We should definitely have a deep playoff run,” she said. “We want to be district champs. We want to go out with a bang. This is my last go around. I love my team and this is our last go, so the time should be now.”
Clay-Baker says that she has learned so many life lessons out of her injury.
“It made me better because I know if there is anything I want, I can have that mentality to go out and get it,” Clay-Baker said.
“ACL injuries take six to 12 months, and I came back right at six months. I have never tried for anything so hard so it definitely made me better as a person.”
JOSHUA JORDAN is a junior at Guyer High School and a participant in the Denton Record-Chronicle’s “Speak Out Loud” writing program for student journalists.