Spring has finally come to my part of the world, and I promise those of you still waiting with snow on the ground, spring will come to you, too. One sure sign of spring is March Madness, that time in the college basketball season when many of us spend too much time in front of the television and too much time at work talking about how our bracket picks are holding up.
On Easter, my parents came over for lunch, and they were somewhat incredulous that I wasn’t planning to watch Duke play Louisville later in the day. Their incredulity is fair, because when I lived under their roof, I was as avid a basketball fan as they come. And at one point, when I played in a youth orchestra at Duke and dreamed of attending Duke for college, I was an avid Duke fan. Watching Lousville beat Duke in the 1986 Championship game was very painful for me, and so I’m never anxious to watch Louisville play.
As Robert Frost writes, “Way leads on to way,” and I ended up attending an ACC school, but not of the blue and white ilk. My team made a hasty exit from the NCAA tournament this year, and so my interest level in the rest of the tournament had dropped to near zero.
So when I turned the television on Sunday afternoon, I hadn’t really been planning to watch basketball. I simply wanted to spend some downtime watching one of the shows I recorded from the past week. But the television was tuned to the basketball, and when I realized it was the Duke-Louisville game, I decided to watch for a few minutes.
I wish I hadn’t turned on the TV at all, because moments into my watching came that awful moment. You basketball fans know the one I mean. Louisville’s Kevin Ware was trying to block a Duke player’s 3-point shot, and when he came down … well, there was no mistaking the leg break. I cried out. I cried out again when the network replayed his leg breaking in slow motion. It is an image burned on my brain, and it made me feel sick. (I will not watch it again, and for those of you who haven’t seen it, I hope you’ll trust my decision not to link to a video of it here. It’s horrific, and you just don’t need to watch it.)
For the next few minutes, the anguish of Ware, his teammates and coaches, and even the Duke players and Coach K, gripped me. I cried tears for Ware. And I felt sympathy if not empathy for him in that moment.
You see, one thing I know as a runner is that I never know when I’ve run my last run. In 2007, I suffered a painful stress fracture in my left ankle. Just a week and a half into my injury, my hopes were still pretty high for a speedy recovery, and I took this picture as a reminder that life could have dealt more harshly with me:
My recovery took so long, and several physical therapists I saw were so discouraging, I began to wonder if I’d ever run again. But eventually, I did run again. I came back to run longer distances and faster times than I had before, and I love running now even more than I did back in 2007, because I love what it has taught me about discipline and life and community and my place in it. And I love the time it gives me to think and pray in ways that I don’t get with any other form of exercise I do.
There’s an unspoken bond among injured athletes from amateur to professional. The injuries may differ and the severities usually do, and for professionals (or those hoping to become professionals, like Ware) of course there is even more at stake. But I think those of us who call ourselves athletes all understand what it means to face losing something we love to do, even if the loss is only temporary.
I think it also has to do with an athlete’s understanding of what it takes to achieve anything special in the world of sports. I’ll never be an Olympic athlete. I may never even qualify to run the Boston Marathon. I’ve never run an ultramarathon, but because I’ve run a marathon, I can respect and at least somewhat understand the dedication and training, and the sweat, blood and tears that go into training for an ultra (an ultramarathon is anything longer than the 26.2 miles of a marathon. Typical ultramarathon distances include 50K, 100K, 50 miles and 100 miles). And I can understand the emotional pain of not getting to compete in a much-anticipated race because of physical injury.
You know what else I know? I know the triumph of fighting back from an injury. I know more about how the body works and breaks and heals. I know the comfort that comes from others’ stories of their own battle back after injury. And I know that God has already used my own comeback from injury to bring hope to those who have suffered ankle injuries of their own and wondered if they’d ever fully heal.
Best of all, though, I know that God uses everything for good. Joseph reminded his brothers of that in Genesis 50:20. They had sold him into slavery because they were jealous of him, but God later used Joseph’s position in Egypt to save his family during a time of famine. Paul reminds us again in Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
God has used my injury for good, and He will do so with Kevin Ware, too. Ware’s break looked so bad in a Joe-Theismann-kind-of-career-ending-way that it made many wonder if it meant the end of his short basketball career. But this week has already brought pictures showing him up on crutches walking around and a prognosis that he will likely play basketball again, maybe even within the year. There’s power in those pictures, the power of hope. As Ware heals, the hope he brings others can strengthen, too.
I think one of the things we love most about springtime is the hope it brings. So if you need a dose of hope, look around you. Somewhere there’s a tree blooming or a basketball player healing or an ultramarathoner competing or some other source of inspiration that can provide you with hope and faith that God truly does use all things to work together for good.
Do you have your own comeback story that might bring hope to others? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.