As reported by The Hartford Courant, March 9, 2008.
Working Toward Joint Recovery
Thomas, Greene Have Much Work Ahead
By John Altavilla
Mel Thomas and Kalana Greene were starters when the season began. They never expected to be spectators when the top-ranked UConn women won the Big East regular season basketball title. They never thought they would be walking stiff-legged to center court to accept a trophy their teammates wanted to make clear was just as much theirs.
But things don't always go as planned. All it takes is one bad step, and they each took one just a month apart, so they spend their days rehabilitating injured knees as their teammates practice across the hall at Gampel Pavilion.
"If you're going to get hurt, you're going to get hurt," said Greene, a junior forward. "I guess you can say it's all been predetermined, so there's no point thinking about it because you'll play cautious and intimidated. You won't be productive on the court."
On Dec. 17, UConn's eighth game, Greene, perhaps the Huskies' most athletic player, tore two ligaments and the lateral meniscus in her right knee against South Carolina at Gampel.
Then on Jan. 15 at Syracuse, eight games later, Thomas, a senior guard and one of the best three-point shooters in program history, tore her right ACL and lateral meniscus.
Season over for Greene.
College career over for Thomas.
"I've really never had an injury that's kept me out for more than three or four days," Thomas said. "I never really expected to get hurt, so I never really had an idea what this would be like.
"But it's gotten a lot easier as time has passed, considering you can't even lift your leg the first few days after surgery. ... You try to make the best out of the situation, support your teammates while getting this stuff done."
Now the "stuff" Greene and Thomas do is confined to the machines and machinations prescribed by their new coach, Rosemary Ragle, UConn's assistant athletic trainer.
Seven days a week, nearly four hours a day, Ragle oversees the regimen designed to bring both back better than before; Greene for next season, Thomas for the fall, when she plans to play professionally overseas.
And each injury has presented its own challenge.
"The injury each suffered was each severe in its own right, but Kalana tore an additional ligament that Mel did not," Ragle said. "From the time Dr. [Robert] Arciero repaired Kalana's LCL, we knew it would require a longer time without much motion for her [leg]. So that has put her a little further behind Mel, simply because we had to keep her immobilized longer just for her LCL to heal properly.
"The lateral meniscus tears each had slow recovery as well. When it's just a traditional ACL injury you don't have to worry for the first six weeks of rehab about protecting the meniscus in the process."
Greene will require more surgery March 14. Arciero will remove scar tissue limiting her range of motion and, as a result, the ability to strengthen the quadriceps.
"I've worked with a lot of ACL injuries from the time I was a student, and this is the first time I've seen this," Ragle said. "It happens. I've just never worked with anyone who has had it. But she's still on schedule [for recovery six months after the injury]."
Greene is taking this detour in stride.
"When I did get hurt, I knew it was pretty bad, but I figured it would be six weeks and it ended up as six or nine months," she said. "Now I get to learn from the bench and I understand you can never take playing for granted. It will teach me to play harder.
"It was a bad injury, but I'll get the year [medical redshirt] back if I decide I want to take it. So I plan on working twice as hard to get there. There is no other way I could have taken this. I don't want to sit in my room depressed every day. It wasn't the end of the world. I'm using it as a learning experience, and the people around me have made it so much easier. They bring good energy, make you feel better."
Thomas is beginning to reap the benefits of her work.
"You can see you are getting better each day, which makes you want to come here even more," she said. "First you want to get out of the brace. I'm out of the brace. Then you want to be able walk, run, then play basketball again. You set minigoals for yourself. Now I'm riding the stationary bike, swimming, running in the pool, riding the StairMaster and elliptical.
"If you asked me six months ago if I'd be excited about riding a StairMaster, I'd probably say no."