VandyMania Interview: Jenni Benningfield

Senior center Jenni Benningfield's season took an unexpected turn three weeks ago when she suffered a stress fracture in her right foot. She confided with VandyMania's Whitney D. Tuesday about her slow climb back from a painful, frustrating injury.

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Jenni Benningfield: It happened on New Year's Day, great way to bring in the New Year, huh? It was hurting the night before, and I was like, well, OK, I must have hit it. I bruise so easily anyway, I don't even know half the time when I get hit, so I was like OK, whatever. The next morning when I got up, it really hurt to step on the ball of my foot. I thought that's weird, but went to practice, didn't think anything of it, thinking it'll be fine, it's not that bad.

Within an hour of practice, the more stuff I did, the more it hurt. Then we started doing a running drill, and it got unbearable. I couldn't handle it. I didn't want to say anything at first, I was like, maybe it'll go away. Then a couple of more drills, and it didn't get any better. I was freaking out, because that's what happened to Dee. I was like, oh my God. So I told [trainer Rod Newman] about it. He pushed on it, and then he said we'd go get an X-ray. So I sat out the rest of the practice. The X-ray came out negative, but they didn't think they were going to see anything anyway.

It happened on a Thursday, and the next day we were playing Syracuse. The doctor said we really don't know what it is, so we're going to wait and get a bone scan on Monday, do you want to play? I wanted to play, and Coach and I and Rod our trainer met with Dr. Gregory, our team physician, and they were like, let's give it a shot, see how you can play.

I ended up playing 25 minutes. They used that as a test to see how much I can handle. After that game, it hurt. It was unbearable. It was so bad it kept me up all night. So 25 minutes was too much. I was put in a boot, which takes a lot of pressure off my foot. My fracture is right near my toe, so when I go on the ball of my foot, that's where I get the most pressure. That's why I have the boot, so I'm not going up on my toes.

Then we talked to a specialist in North Carolina, and they sent me and [freshman point guard Dee Davis, also recovering from a stress reaction in her right foot] there for two days. He was a real nice guy. He's got his office in his house, and he made molds of our feet, made orthotics, and then he made adjustments to our shoes, and then we got sent back.

We had a game while we were gone. We missed the game Monday with Savannah State. We were just dying-- how weird is it to not be there? We were on the phone with the managers like every couple of minutes getting updates, just going crazy. It was a little nerve-racking, but I guess that was a good game to miss if any game had to be missed. We hated not being there, but we also realized this was a shot to help our team, so Coach was like, go for it, so we were like, let's do it.

We got new bubble shoes. What he did was take the whole air bubble out, take the bottom of the shoe completely off, and put a metal slate in it. Then he put the shoe back together. The point was to put a shank in there, so our shoe can't bend. When you take a normal shoe with one hand on one end and the other hand on the other, you can bend it. My left shoe is normal -- I'll show you. But with this shoe, my right shoe, you can bend it, but not much.



The purpose was basically to prevent as much bending as possible, so there won't be as much pressure. Obviously you can't take all the pressure away, but it takes away as much as possible. Then we wear this shell around our foot to protect it and support it. It just slips on.



Then we came back that Tuesday night, and we got ready for the Kentucky game. I wasn't able to practice any, so they've had us doing things like pool workouts, running in the pool, doing bike workouts, doing abs, all kinds of strengthening stuff, making sure we keep in shape. They didn't want to play me much in the Kentucky and Florida unless they absolutely had to. We knew we had that week before Auburn to hopefully get it better, and then let me practice a little bit.

It was frustrating because I'd been in good spirits, really positive throughout. Then after the Kentucky game and Florida game, that's really when it hit me. It really, really hit me hardest when we lost to Florida because I felt like I let the team down. I wasn't able to be there for the team and to help them and help prepare them. I haven't been able to practice, I haven't been able to do a lot of stuff.

And the times I was out there, anybody would tell you I wasn't productive. I'm not making excuses, because I just didn't play well. And that was frustrating because I wasn't able to help my team. I felt like I hurt them, and I wasn't in there that long either. So everything just kind of built up, and I just lost it. That was definitely the lowest point. I got so upset in the locker room, I just started crying because I felt so helpless.

Then came the week before Auburn. My teammates have been great. They've been supporting me, making sure I keep my head up and in return I've been trying to help the younger players. I'm not sitting here and feeling sorry for myself. I've got three months left, and I want to do anything and everything I can to help prepare myself, but more importantly to help prepare the team.

Now that I'm on the sidelines, I see a lot more that I do wrong or right and see what I do that could be better. So it's been a good thing in a way, just because I've been able to see different things, so that when I am able to go into the game, I'm like, okay, I have an advantage, I've been able to see what this player does, so that's been good-- just seeing things from a different perspective. But I've definitely earned another appreciation for basketball.

The last game, I felt better afterwards, just because the practice gave me time to get used to the shoe, and not to be scared. I was like, if it completely breaks, it breaks. I promised myself before that game, if I'm not going to go 100%, I might as well sit out because it's not helping anybody; it's hurting them. Whatever they give me, just use it and not get frustrated. It's so easy to get frustrated with it, but I don't want my teammates to see me getting frustrated. I'm supposed to be a leader of this team. If they see a leader get frustrated -- they're young, and I don't want that. We have too many games left to let it bother us.

The past week I've gotten to do ten minutes every other day. Now I'm up to 15 minutes every other day, and now my playing time in games has gone up a little bit. I played 17 the other night. I might be able to play 20. The more it gets better, the more playing time I'll get.

But we don't want to go backwards, so I just have to make sure that I'm staying honest with the coaches. It's tempting not to be, but I'd only be hurting myself and the team if I lied because I want to be out there. I just want to make sure that when I am out there, the time that I do have, that I'm giving everything I have.



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Photos by Whitney D. for VandyMania.com.



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