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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Trapped in a web full of pain

    Wildcat freshman Amy Webster leaps for a block in a 3-0 win against Gardner-Webb on Aug. 30 in McKale Center.
    Wildcat freshman Amy Webster leaps for a block in a 3-0 win against Gardner-Webb on Aug. 30 in McKale Center.

    She was an All-American, in the top 50 of her recruiting class and a key element to the future success of the Arizona volleyball program.

    After playing in two official matches in a Wildcat uniform at the beginning of the season, freshman Amy Webster decided to quit the sport altogether – a result of going through five knee surgeries and more emotional agony than she’s ever had to bear.

    “”She was someone we knew was going to be competing for a starting spot – there’s no question,”” said UA head coach Dave Rubio. “”She was right in the mix when she decided to step down.””

    Webster’s collegiate career consisted of four sets in which she collected four kills, three block assists and a dig – just a sliver of her potential.

    “”I think that Amy would have had a huge contribution to our team,”” senior Brittany Leonard said. “”Not having her this year definitely affected us – not only in the middle position but also with the encouragement and intensity of practice.””

    It all started in May 2006 when Webster, 15 at the time, was playing at a regionals tournament for her club’s top team. She landed awkwardly and tore her left ACL and medial meniscus.

    A month later her knee went under the knife for the first time; her ACL was reconstructed and her meniscus was stitched up.

    Webster went home and was instructed to rest, only to find herself back in a hospital bed nine days later.

    The morning prior to the frantic return to the hospital, she woke up with a burning-hot, swollen and painful knee. She simply took some pain medication and thought nothing of it.

    A couple of hours later, she went to her usual physical therapy where she was re-learning how to step, but something went wrong.

    “”I’m standing between the parallel bars and I look in the mirror in front of me to watch my knee, and I look at my face and I’m paper-white – I’m as white as it gets,”” Webster said. “”And then all of a sudden, everything goes blurry and just went black.””

    In the hospital, the doctors extracted liquid from her knee.

    “”They took two or three huge syringes full of pus out of my knee,”” Webster said. “”And then they’re like, ‘Um, yeah. We think you have an infection and we’re going to go in.’ So that afternoon, they went in my knee and it was just a blur.””

    Webster spent six days and five nights in the hospital, went home for two days and then returned to the hospital for a “”rinse-of-the-knee”” procedure.

    The 15-year-old Webster dropped 23 pounds in about nine days.

    Her summer consisted of rehab and indoor therapy instead of playing on the beach with other San Diego high schoolers.

    Webster soon got calcium screws – a type of screw used instead of metal that your bone is supposed to absorb – put into her knee.

    “”Around Thanksgiving weekend, I had another surgery because the lower screw didn’t get all the way absorbed, so the calcium worked its way out to form a cyst on the lower-half of my knee,”” Webster said. “”And it was huge. So they had to remove that.””

    Three months later – February 2007 – she re-tore her meniscus.

    “”So instead of stitching it back together again, they just shaved it off,”” Webster said.

    She underwent five surgeries in less than a year’s time.

    “”I was as driven as I’ve always been,”” Webster said. “”And still having a serious love and passion for the sport, something inside of me was telling me, ‘You’ll get back. You’ll get back on that court. It’s what you want to do. It’s what you want to be.'””

    Coming to Arizona

    Webster found herself getting increasingly frustrated by her inability to do the everyday things she was used to during her rehab.

    In the initial stages of her treatment, she couldn’t run or move quickly in any way like she wanted – and more importantly – she couldn’t play volleyball.

    “”There were nights I’d come home and I’d just bawl because I’d see people playing,”” Webster said. “”I mean, I couldn’t even watch volleyball on TV because it would kill me – because that’s what I wanted to do.””

    Webster ultimately decided to come to Arizona on a full-ride athletic scholarship, denying any pain.

    “”The truth is that I have never fully come back to what I was before I blew out my knee,”” Webster said. “”Given the fact that I’ve had five surgeries doesn’t help. … I think subconsciously I knew there was something wrong with me, but I just wasn’t in touch with that.””

    Around the time of team physicals at the beginning of the season, Arizona’s orthopedic surgeon told Webster her ACL was deficient – or at extremely high risk of re-tearing – and it could become arthritic if she continued to play.

    Webster wasn’t allowed on the court without a knee brace.

    “”It wasn’t extremely that harsh, but they would have given me a paper waiver to sign that said if I do get hurt without wearing the brace, it is my responsibility to take care of,”” the freshman said. “”With that, I put on the brace. I tried playing with it, and mentally I struggled to get over that thought. I guess you can call my knee an insecurity in a sense.””

    Webster saw the brace as a sign of weakness – an outer handicap for all to see. And so the personal battle with the knee brace began.

    “”Making me wear that brace made me feel almost like I lost that personal battle,”” Webster said. “”And it’s kind of silly when you think about it as the person on the outside. … My mom didn’t get it and people around me just didn’t get why it was so hard for me to put on the brace, but it was.””

    She would eventually get over the battle with the brace, but Webster’s mental toughness wouldn’t compensate for her body’s physical inability.

    She remembered times when she’d jump high off her leg for an attack and she could feel her knee beneath the brace shift, grind and sometimes slip.

    “”It didn’t slip big, but it probably moved just a tick, and it’s the most disgusting feeling,”” Webster said. “”It would feel like I was leaving the bottom half of my leg behind. And it’s scary because I didn’t know if I was going to land and be OK.””

    The frustration built up to the point where after the Red/Blue scrimmage on Aug. 23, Webster made a call to San Diego and said, “”Mom, this just isn’t working. I can’t do this anymore.””

    Webster’s mom, Sara, came to Tucson to help her daughter with the decision. Amy made the ultimate decision on the rainy Saturday night of the Idaho football game – just a week after her call home.

    “”It was terrible,”” the freshman said. “”I came to terms with it and I’m like, ‘I’m quitting? I’m really quitting right now?’ And I hate giving up. I never want to give up. I always want to win. I always want to accomplish what I do and leave on a good note.””

    Getting to Arizona and tasting the life of an athlete for a couple of weeks, then realizing she had to give up volleyball because she couldn’t physically play was, as Amy put it, “”a stab at her self-confidence and self-respect.””

    “”It sucked. It was probably the hardest decision I’ve ever made,”” Webster said. “”But I guess that’s what life throws at you. You come to a fork in the road and you know you have to make that decision because you can’t take both.””

    The freshman can still be found working out in the McKale weight room – something she’ll have to do for the rest of her life in order to protect her knee. And despite the fact she’s not on the roster anymore, Webster still hangs out with her former teammates.

    “”I’m really happy for her because she’s gone through so much pain, and I completely understand where she’s coming from,”” Leonard said. “”It’s remarkable what she’s done so far, but I think it’s the best decision that she’s made. She told me, ‘I want to be able to walk my kids to school in the morning,’ and that just broke my heart.””

    The architecture student may not be living her childhood dream now, but she’s certainly creating a new file cabinet of dreams – from marine biology to sports photography and everything in between.

    “”The truth is that if I kept on playing, I really couldn’t have done this degree and … there’s really no time to do it if you’re playing a college sport,”” Webster said. “”I mean, I’m only a freshman in my first semester. I have time now to further discover myself and understand what I really want to do in life. I guess you could say that’s the silver lining to the dark cloud.””

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