By: Lauren Tolson, Graduate Student
When I arrived at the University of Richmond I had all the goals every Division I athlete has. I wanted to work hard on the court, and develop my game, and get stronger in the weight room. I knew that I had the potential to become a great player, however I had some work to do.
In high school, I played against high-level competition. My junior and senior years were special. The experience of making it to the state tournament twice and winning once was unforgettable; after this type of success, you want more. You want to take it to the next level. My goal was to come to Richmond, make a mark and be remembered for being a tough player, just as I was in high school.
During my senior season at Richmond, most if not all of that was suddenly in doubt. After just eight games of what was shaping up as my best season in a Richmond uniform, not only for myself but also for my team, all of it was taken away because of an injury. I wasn’t sure if I would ever have the opportunity to play again. I knew there was a chance with the NCAA waiver system but nothing is guaranteed with so many factors at play.
There were so many thoughts and emotions running through my head. At this point in my career I had never been injured, never kept away from the game I loved. It seemed unreal as it all happened so quickly. One day you’re playing and playing well, then in an instant you’re on the shelf, uncertain of the future.
As a senior with a relentless work ethic I knew at this point God was testing me, my character, and most importantly who I am as a person. I looked myself in the mirror everyday and had two choices – to give up and send a message to my teammates, coaches, family and fans that I wasn’t strong and I was not going to fight through adversity or – give it all that I had everyday.
I was much more than a player. I had teammates looking up to me, my family pushing me because they know my potential best, and most importantly but selfless myself. I knew that if I pushed myself every opportunity that I had, that it would pay off in hopes that I could get another shot at playing.
As a senior, I wanted to finish my career strong. I wanted to make all of those who supported me beyond proud. The biggest and sometimes the hardest part of that was doing rehab, occasionally even on off days. It was also being the best leader I could be on and off the court. My effort was more than dripping sweat after my workouts; it was keeping the team focused when they would get down on themselves. That role was not easy, but needed and I was willing to fill it despite how hard it was to watch from the sideline. Ultimately, I wanted to find ways make a difference even if it could not be on the court.
After a long season of waiting followed by more waiting for a decision on my status going forward I received my waiver. I was going to get a chance to play again. It was one of the most exciting times of my career, especially after not really knowing what was going to happen throughout the season. Going through such a long period with no real guidance on where you’re going to end up next was super frustrating at times, but my mom just kept expressing to me that I had to be patient.
Finally, I was cleared and from there I chose to join postseason workouts with my team. Having a rough year made me want to be there even more because I didn’t want to watch them struggle anymore. Workouts did not get any easier; I had to get back to a high tempo, back in the mode of pushing myself and outworking other people. I was not in the best shape and that made it even tougher to compete. At that point, I again remembered what my mom said to me – “Be patient it will come.”
The coaches continued to believe in my abilities and me and from a players’ standpoint that is really important. I think the timing worked out well because, over the summer, I was able to intensely focus on skills that I hadn’t practiced or received reps in during the season. I did not have to rush back at the end of the season. It was a much smoother transition and looking back at it I am so thankful for the coaches and the staff at the University of Richmond allowing me to get another shot at my “senior season.”
The 2016-17 season couldn’t get here soon enough. There wasn’t going to be another chance to have a final season this time. This was it. With “Graduate” next to my name on the roster it became very real that I had one last chance to accomplish the goals that were still out there for me.
I knew the game wouldn’t slow down for me right away. When I finally got back, it took me a while to become the old L.T. once again. But when the day came, oh it was a good one. You just feel unstoppable. I almost get emotional thinking about it because I could vividly remember the days when I couldn’t walk and now, here I am, sprinting the floor, rebounding and hitting three’s. I wouldn’t have traded that feeling for anything.
Starting off, I had some nerves. Physically, nothing could stop me but mentally at times I would get in my own head. I had a lot of ups and downs. The first game of the season I started and then I was taken out of the starting lineup. It did not upset me, but rather gave me motivation to earn my spot back. You have to be a competitor in this game and I’ve never been anything but that. I ended up starting again and that gave me more motivation in terms of my overall game. I wasn’t as consistent starting out the season but as games went on I found ways to score and be effective. I still wanted find ways to “make my mark”.
Then came another injury. It was just another play, another trip down the floor, just like the hundreds or thousands before it. I went up for a rebound, came down in a pile and I felt the pop. It was happening all over again. No matter how bad I tried to hold the tears from falling, the pain of my knee caused me to break down, so much that I could not even get words out. After a few moments of breathing I finally expressed what was wrong. After a few more deep breaths, I found the strength to get up and slowly walk over to the sideline. Immediately, the doctor started to ask me questions.
Once I was able to relay how I felt and where the pain was, the doctor did a couple tests with movement to my leg to see how I would react. Really, to try and rule out (if he could) the level of seriousness the injury could have been. Even though it wasn’t a definite call, it gave him and I a good start to what I could expect the injury to be.
I was speechless.
I felt kind of alone, not so much because people weren’t reaching out to me. I wanted the space. I needed to take some time for me. I felt like I constantly exert my energy on others, especially with my last injury, but this time I needed to really focus. With a time crunch heading into the last part of the season, mentally I had to set goals, and focus on reaching them.
For this to happen in the game it did, as late in the season as we were at the time, I knew things would be up in the air looking forward.
I was pissed.
You know I honestly felt like it shouldn’t have been happening to me. I had already been through it and God was testing me, my character, but why again? What was I doing wrong. Did I not handle the last injury correctly? All these questions were running through my head.
You never want to blame anyone though because it already happened, there’s no changing that. At this point I had to take it upon myself to re-focus, first by accepting what happened and trying to put a negative situation to something that I could look back on and be proud of myself for.
However, in these very moments, at times, I questioned what I was doing. The difference in how I was able to make great progress was surrounding myself with those who were worth the journey, they gave me nothing but good vibes and despite how much they wanted me to come back, were patient and understanding. That made it a lot easier for me.
After my doctor’s appointment, I was surprisingly thrilled. It wasn’t an injury that required surgery and if I did all my rehab and my body healed the way it was supposed to I would be able to play again this season.
That was almost four weeks ago now.
Immediately, Lauren Hawkinson (the women’s basketball trainer) and I talked about a timeline. She expressed that everything wouldn’t be perfect or fall exactly in line but that she would do everything she could to get me back on the court.
Coach Shafer I talked quite a few times. Of course, the night it happened and periodically he checked on me to hear about my progress. Coach Miller and I talked on the phone as well. He tried his best to keep me in good spirits; it was identical to our relationship and the epitome of this current season. Furthermore, all the coaches reached out to me, and I was very thankful but at the same time personally I knew it was in their best interest to exert their energy to the team that could be on the floor.
After days and days of rehab, mostly all good but some not, I was anxious and looking forward to my follow-up doctor’s appointment. On Tuesday February 7th I received the good news. I was cleared for progression. This time instead of tears, I just couldn’t keep a smile off of my face.
The doctors have cleared me, so now it’s on me to find a way back. While it felt so long ago, I am currently still working on rehabbing, lifting, and shooting; really doing everything I can to get back on the court. I want to finish my career off strong because I was not able to do it last year. That’s why I am back. I want to reach my 1,000-point milestone; I want to help this team win games. So many people take this opportunity for granted. As a player you should take advantage of every single moment you are on the court. Get better. Make someone else better.
From AAU to middle school, from high school to college, all of my coaches have pushed me every single day. They taught me resilience, discipline, self-confidence, commitment, and most importantly determination. Without those qualities, I would not be the person I am today—fighting for just one more chance.
Because of those life lessons it has been ingrained in me to never look back and say you could have done something that you didn’t. I will be back and I will finish like I once dreamed.
I have unfinished business. I still have goals to accomplish; this team has goals to accomplish. I’ll see you soon Spider fans.