Taking Her Best Shot
Sarah Anderson BA ’17 overcomes injuries to excel on the court and in the classroom.
Her senior year was over. The Lewis & Clark’s women’s basketball team had just lost to top-seeded Puget Sound, 61-58, in the 2017 Northwest Conference tournament.
The season was done. Sarah Anderson returned to the locker room, listened to her coach, and then headed back into the hallway to meet her family. As she saw her mom, she experienced the usual mix of emotions that tend to overcome seniors at the end of their final seasons.
Except, technically, this wasn’t the first time Anderson’s senior year had ended. That moment had happened roughly 16 months earlier, when Anderson, early into the team’s fall practices of the 2015–16 season, took a jump shot and fell to the ground with tremendous pain in her left heel.
“I will never be able to describe it,” says Anderson. “This pain was five times that of the torn ACL in my knee.”
As it turns out, Anderson had torn her Achilles tendon. Now, instead of preparing for the Pioneers’ season opener in a few weeks, she would be nursing the worst injury of her life. Anderson had dealt with major injuries throughout her time as a student-athlete, including two knee issues: a torn ACL during her first year and a torn meniscus her junior year. But this was the first time she was confronting the idea of never competing again.
“I was stunned. I couldn’t even be upset,” says Anderson. “I wound up sleeping only 30 minutes that first night—my heel was just throbbing. It was overwhelming. And then the tears started. I knew what this meant. Everyone kept saying, ‘We’re waiting for the MRI,’ but I knew. I just didn’t want to accept it.”
About 10 days later, Anderson posted an Instagram message with the caption “Hanging up the laces.” She was trying to accept her fate, but she still attended her team’s games, and watched as the Pios opened the year with eight straight losses.
“I just couldn’t watch it end like this,” says Anderson. The team went on to win three games to finish with a total of 11 wins over the last two seasons.
With renewed resolve, Anderson took a leave of absence during the spring 2016 semester and began rehabbing—again.
While she was driven by the possibility of a fifth year of athletic eligibility, she was motivated just as much, if not more, by her desire for a strong academic finish. “My mental state was so messed up after the Achilles injury. I wasn’t functioning, and I wasn’t studying,” says Anderson. “I thought if I tried to finish school at that point, it was going to be a mess. Plus, in the back of my head, I was thinking about a chance to play a fifth year.”
The recovery was tough—much more difficult than that of any of her prior injuries. She couldn’t walk for 10 months. However, as an aspiring physician assistant, Anderson received valuable time in her career field of choice. In fact, she now works for one of the physical therapy practices where she was treated for both her ACL and Achilles injuries.
In fall 2016, Anderson returned to the floor and the classroom, excelling in both. As a women’s basketball team captain, she shot just over 46 percent from 3-point range, second best among anyone competing at the NCAA Division III level and eighth of any NCAA women’s basketball student-athlete. She also earned the highest GPA of her Lewis & Clark career, making the Dean’s List.
The team played well too. With 16 wins, Lewis & Clark returned to the Northwest Conference tournament for the first time since 2013 and led Puget Sound by 10 points with four minutes to go. They lost in the end, but in that finality, Anderson had closure, something she never thought she’d have just over a year before.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” says Anderson. “I feel good about where I left my basketball career and where I’m headed.”