COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - While injuries can be devastating to a sports team, they can also be a source of inspiration.
Most athletes take about six months to recover from a major injury, like an ACL tear. That' s not the case for USC basketball player Valeria Nainiama. She worked hard to return to the court early and set an example for her teammates.
The knee brace is bulky and doesn't look all that comfortable, but Nainiama doesn't really care. When doctors told her she could return to the basketball court, she couldn't help but smile. "It was like someone gave me my freedom back," she said.
Val, as she is known by her teammates, is the senior leader for the Gamecock basketball team. She tore her ACL during a pickup game last summer, and it looked like she was destined to miss most of her final season at South Carolina. "I wanted to cry," said Nainiama, "It was just like someone had cut my throat or something. Everything I had been working for, it felt like my dreams were crushed."
After the shock, Val got to work on rehab. She was back on the court two months before she was scheduled to return, which didn't come as a shock to her coaches. "With it being Val, I was not really surprised," said Head Coach Dawn Staley, "I know how hard she works."
"I thought it was right," said Nainiama, "I thought it was right to come back. I'm extremely happy I came back in four months."
A leader in a team that's seen some rough times over the last few years with the departure of key recruits, Nainiama is the kind of player Staley said she wants representing her program. "To do what she's done in coming back in four months, her shooting isn't what it used to be, but her defense is great," said Staley, "Her leadership, she's just steady."