If your name is Caitlin Howe, you would be.
"People look at what I have been through and they don't realize you face three ACL tears at once," says Howe." You take them as they come. I never really thought about quitting, basketball is really what I want to be involved in. Basketball is the passion of my life. 20 years ago an ACL tear was the end of your career, but it isn't anymore, it is something you can come back from. You face it, you get it fixed, and then you rehab."
The first ACL tear occurred in the State Tournament of Howe's junior year of high school while playing for her Fairport team in Rochester, New York. So determined was Howe that she called her surgeon and talked him into performing the operation 11 days early so she could get started on rehabbing faster. After working hard for nine months to get back into shape, Howe tore her ACL for a second time during the first game of her senior year of high school. Howe describes that as the hardest ACL tear to overcome.
"It was exactly 9 months from the day I had the first tear. It was the same concept though, I can get it fixed and come back and play was the mentality I took."
In between her second and third ACL tears, Howe tore her meniscus as well. However, Howe describes having her meniscus cut out as "Not a big surgery." After all her knee had been through so much, it reacted strangely and kept her out for much of last season until she suffered her third ACL tear in practice last season during a collision with former Duke Player Brook Smith.
"It was a contact injury this time, the way I got hit and the force of the hit was so strong that it would have torn anyone in that positions ACL. I was wearing a brace and that is what the brace is supposed to prevent, but I got hit so hard that my ACL tore despite the brace."
During that third surgery doctors inserted three new ligaments into Howe's knee despite her only tearing one of them. The insertion helped fix Howe's knee to the point where she now describes it as "better than it has ever been. It feels like it did before I had ever torn an ACL during my sophomore year of high school."
Many people could not have come back from such a string of injuries, but Howe's unbelievable work ethic has carried her through the process. Howe recalls that she has to literally be kicked out of the weight room sometimes at night.
"Ever since I was little I have been that way. I enjoy working out and practicing just as much as I enjoy playing the games. I guess that is unique but I didn't realize that when I was younger, I thought that was how everyone was. I don't want to be outworked by anyone. My work ethic is one of my greatest gifts and that is what allowed me to come back."
A deadly shooter, Howe credits her older brother John as the first person to help her develop a great outside jumper. "John was a very good shooter and a very hard worker. One summer he broke his leg and he would take me outside in his wheel chair and help me work on my form when I was in elementary school."
As Howe improved, she began working out with Scott Fitch, now the Men's Varsity coach at Fairport High School and a former Division III All American. Fitch spent countless hours in the gym with Howe helping her with her shot and Howe still gets assistance from him when she is home from school. During Howe's rehabilitation process, she was able to shoot without jumping and was able to continue to work on her form. "During the summer, I could not jump so I would shoot several hundred foul shoots a day to perfect my form."
Howe recalls her first time in an actual game for Duke which occurred while playing against Hampton out in Los Angles as "a very nervous moment, I had to remind myself to breath, I was trying to act cool about it, but I was real nervous." The nervousness did not stop her from hitting a three pointer and dishing out an assist in her first 10 minutes of action as a Blue Devil. In the following game against Loyola Marymount, Howe made the most of her eight minutes of playing time by scoring eight points, including two 3's and grabbing two rebounds.
"It was amazing to hit my first shot in a game, I hit it right next to our bench and the whole bench went wild. It was great to hear! It was like all the work I put into it was worth it. It felt the same way after my first practice. Just to be able to practice with the team again for two hours was great!"
In her first action at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Howe again helped the Blue Devils by scoring 5 points, 3 of them came on a tremendously athletic 3-point play, which showed how her knee has returned to strength.
The daughter of a financial planner and a former school teacher turned Registered Nurse, Caitlin is the fourth in a family of six that she describes as "The Brady Bunch, three boys and three girls." Howe credits much of her initial interest in sports as something that arouse when she competed against her older brothers growing up. She also points to their tremendous support as she grew to become the athlete she is today. "Going through the injuries I have suffered, they have never been anything but proud of me and they have supported me unconditionally. That has helped me through the hard times I have had."
Howe enjoys hanging out with her friends in her free time and relaxing. "As an athlete, you work so hard in school and in work outs, it is very enjoyable to just hang out with friends and watch television or a movie when the chance presents itself." She also enjoys playing tennis and has recently started to dabble in golf. She enjoys hip hop music as well as older artists such as The Beatles, Bob Marley and Led Zeppelin and credits her parents with influencing her to enjoy the music that they grew up listening to.
Howe looks at her roll on this year's team as getting herself used to playing in the ACC and securing some playing time, while helping her team in anyway she can. As next year comes along, Howe hopes to fill some of the scoring gaps that will be left behind when seniors Alana Beard, Iciss Tillis and Vicki Krapohl graduate. "I don't really know where it is going to go from here, right now I am concentrating on getting in shape and doing the little things for the team that I can do."
In looking back on the recent stretch of 4 games in 9 days, Howe described Coach Gail Goestenkors approach to the games as a simulation of the NCAA Tournament. With games packed right next to each other, and several on the road, Howe stated that "Coach G would tell us before each game what round we were in." Howe went on to say that it was especially interesting because "Each game got bigger as we worked through the stretch of games and we wound up with the simulated National Championship game against UNC in a packed Cameron Indoor Stadium."
Despite the teams #1 ranking nationally, Howe does not pay much attention to that and stated that her teammates do not either.
"It doesn't matter what you are ranked now, it matters what you are ranked at the end of the season. We all understand that. It is kind of neat to hear the announcer say #1 ranked Duke every time we play but outside of that, it is not a huge deal what we are ranked right now."
Howe views the significance of the upcoming game against Tennessee at Cameron to last year's match up with top ranked Connecticut. What she hopes to see Saturday when legendary coach Pat Summit and the Tennessee Volunteers come to town is the same energy The Cameron Crazies provided last year.
"It will be interesting to see how it compares to the UCONN game last year. I had a lot of people come up to me after the UConn game last year and say that it was the best game they had ever seen in Cameron Indoor Stadium, men's or women's, in their whole time here at Duke and I agree with them. The atmosphere was so intense and it was so loud and the fans were awesome. I am excited to get a piece of that atmosphere again."
In summing up the season thus far and where this Duke team is going, Howe is quick to point out that "This year's team is more talented than last year's team, we have a lot of the same players but we have Monique back and it is another year of us playing together. We have grown to trust each other more in tight situations. I think last year we learned that while Alana is awesome, she can't win a National Championship by herself. Our goal is to win a National Championship and we know we have to do it differently than we did last year. More people have to become involved and that is going to be the key to our success."