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PLAYING THE SIDELINES

ATHLETES WITH INJURIES FACE CHOICES AND CHALLENGES

By Chris Pappas, CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Last year, coaches were thrilled and basketball fans were astonished at the talent and power of 6'8" freshman post player Dan K. Clemente. Thrust into the spotlight, the 1997-'98 Ivy League Rookie of the Year returned to campus this fall fully expecting to be operating on the defenses of rival teams, racking up three pointers and rebounds.

Instead, he will be operated on for a degenerating ankle condition during Thanksgiving break. Translation: Clemente will be out of action for the season.

Unfortunately for Harvard sports fans and athletes alike, Clemente's predicament is not an unusual one. Many players this season are finding themselves sidelined, faced with the challenge of rehabilitation and an eventual comeback.

Sometimes the element of choice is all but eliminated.

"My season ended prematurely," Kim L. Megdanis '00 laments. A three-season runner, Megdanis is currently recuperating from a serious muscle strain, only a year after undergoing surgery. She says her decision to pass on the remainder of the cross-country season was difficult, although it was made in consultation with her coach and trainer.

Like Clemente, sophomore Carrie E. Larkworthy, a guard for the women's basketball team, was plagued by ankle problems last season. She was initially compared to Jessica M. Gelman '97, the all-time school assist record holder, but after surgery became necessary, she had to watch from the bench as the record escaped her grasp.

Many diehard athletes experience recurring injuries that eventually require medical attention. Over time, excessive wear-and-tear on muscles and joints can aggravate otherwise unnoticeable conditions, often creating new ones in the process.

The problems Megdanis is facing date to her years on the high school oval. She says they just recently became pronounced.

Clemente, too, is no stranger to injury, having missed a handful of games his inaugural season because of a sprained ankle. Further sprains this past summer led doctors to recommend season-end surgery.

Senior Melissa M. Milbert, who plays defense for the women's hockey team, has not experienced the same phenomenon. Although she has broken several bones and recently tore a major ligament in her knee for a second time, Milbert's injuries comprise a string of severe but non-related occurrences.

Faced with the prospect of losing her final season of collegiate hockey, Milbert decided to take the year off and return to her native Minnesota for intensive therapy and rehabilitation.

"I've decided to withdraw for the year," she says. "It really was the best decision for me."

Most athletic injuries reflect the nature of a particular sport. Coaches say runners are more prone to ankle and leg problems, while soccer players often develop knee disorders. Contact sports like football and hockey tend to see the most serious and diverse injuries.

"When our kids get hurt, they really get hurt," women's hockey coach Katey Stone remarks.

As a result of injury, Stone estimates three to five players are forced to miss competitions each season. She says, however, that Milbert's story is highly unusual.

Just as injuries vary, so do recovery times for various athletes. Some can be on the field just days after surgery, while others, like Milbert and Larkworthy, have injuries that need much more time to heal.

In his first game after rehab last year, Clemente roared off the disabled list to net 37 points and grab 11 rebounds. Next season, he is hoping for the same turnaround upon his return to the court.

But for athletes returning from the injured list, the challenges of recurring pain can be two-fold. In addition to braving the agony of rehabilitation, sidelined players must endure practices and competitions from the bench, sometimes equally as excruciating for those who once dreamt of success.

"I won't lie, it stunk not being able to put on the uniform," Larkworthy says. "There were a lot of phone calls home to my parents."

Most players do not let an inability to compete obstruct their team spirit. When sidelined by injury, many choose to continue working with their team in another capacity. Megdanis has attended meets as a scorekeeper, while Milbert has been at the aid of teammates, retrieving water and equipment.

Larkworthy recalls the thrill of her team's stunning victory over Stanford in the NCAA tournament last year, which she enjoyed despite ankle problems that confined her to the sidelines.

"It was the greatest to be on the bench, in uniform, cheering for the team," she says. "When the game concluded we all ran out on the floor, and I tried too, but ended up sort of hopping out there. I definitely still felt very much a part of the team and I tried my best to be a spirited bench player."

However, living situations can aggravate the feeling of inactivity. Megdanis, who is in a blocking group with several other runners, admits it is tough to live with healthy teammates, though she feels it is also a definite asset.

"It is kind of hard, but it made it Smuch easier to keep up with it. If you havesomeone else to motivate you to go to therapyeveryday, then it really helps," she says.

Milbert, who once played six weeks of hockeywith a broken wrist, credits encouraging teammatesfor helping her overcome past injuries. Takingtime off is difficult given her experience inovercoming injury, but necessary.

"It's really difficult to leave considering myteammates are so supportive," Milbert says.

Stone also believes that teammates can play aninstrumental role in seeing injured playersthrough the stresses of injury.

"Of course there's nothing physical they can dofor a person," she says. "But emotionally, withregard to encouraging an individual, it can bevery helpful."

For many injured athletes, initial pain anddisappointment usually gives way to optimism andresolve. The road to recovery for Milbert will belong and strenuous, but its bumps are at leastfamiliar. She is already anticipating long hoursin the training room, but at the end of it allpictures herself lacing up her skates sometimeearly next year.

"It usually takes most of the year to feelhalfway normal," she says. "You get to know thetrainer very well."

Larkworthy agrees.

"Through everything, I got to know the trainingstaff really well. The Harvard Shuttle servicetook me everywhere for three months, and I gotsome serious triceps from crutching everywhere,"she says.

Like many others, Larkworthy dreamed of makinga smashing return to athletics, but knew thatwould be impossible without first dedicating herefforts to intensive therapy.

"I had to accept my role as an injured playerand be patient knowing that next year, I'd beplaying again," she says

Milbert, who once played six weeks of hockeywith a broken wrist, credits encouraging teammatesfor helping her overcome past injuries. Takingtime off is difficult given her experience inovercoming injury, but necessary.

"It's really difficult to leave considering myteammates are so supportive," Milbert says.

Stone also believes that teammates can play aninstrumental role in seeing injured playersthrough the stresses of injury.

"Of course there's nothing physical they can dofor a person," she says. "But emotionally, withregard to encouraging an individual, it can bevery helpful."

For many injured athletes, initial pain anddisappointment usually gives way to optimism andresolve. The road to recovery for Milbert will belong and strenuous, but its bumps are at leastfamiliar. She is already anticipating long hoursin the training room, but at the end of it allpictures herself lacing up her skates sometimeearly next year.

"It usually takes most of the year to feelhalfway normal," she says. "You get to know thetrainer very well."

Larkworthy agrees.

"Through everything, I got to know the trainingstaff really well. The Harvard Shuttle servicetook me everywhere for three months, and I gotsome serious triceps from crutching everywhere,"she says.

Like many others, Larkworthy dreamed of makinga smashing return to athletics, but knew thatwould be impossible without first dedicating herefforts to intensive therapy.

"I had to accept my role as an injured playerand be patient knowing that next year, I'd beplaying again," she says

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