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The Trials of an Athlete: the James Pila Story

by Gary-Joseph Panganiban

March 15, 2017 | Sports

“It was something basketball players do all the time,’’ said James. ‘‘I had the ball, and I went for a layup, but suddenly my leg got stuck and buckled up. I heard a loud ‘pop’ in my knee, and fell to the ground in pain.”

When you push yourself all summer to improve your basketball game, when leading your team to a championship has become your priority for the upcoming season, and when you feel like you are unstoppable and on top of the world, it’s hard to think that a routine play is enough to send you back to rock-bottom… but that’s how Dawson student and Division 2 Basketball player, James Pila, felt before he received news about his torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL for short) last november.

“When I was on the floor, I was hoping that it was anything but a torn ACL,” said James. “I know that [this injury] would require surgery and that I would be out for a very long time… I just can’t see myself not playing basketball.”

James Pila has been “shooting hoops” since he was eight years-old. It started off as a sport; he would play here and there when he had the opportunity, but eventually, it turned into a passion. He’s played for many teams before, but rarely has he felt at home as he does with the Blues. James is a talented basketball player whose love for basketball is unparalleled. His 13-year bond with the sport that still stands strong today is a testament of that. However, in all his years of competing, never has he picked up an injury as severe as this one.

What is an ACL? An ACL, or the anterior cruciate ligament, is a ligament inside the knee that attaches the tibia to the femur. According to Michelle Beckles, a certified athletic and massage therapist at Dawson, who also treated Pila, the ACL is “essential in any sport where you have to ‘plant and turn’. It prevents the tibia from shifting too far forward.” In other words, the ACL plays a significant role in quick changes of direction. A tear would occur when the tibia overextends and doesn’t stop shifting forward. It is considered a serious injury mostly because of the recovery time. An athlete would have to wait at least six months after surgery before competing again.

For an injury that could take more than half a year to recover from, Beckles affirms that “a huge part of the rehabilitation is the psychological preparedness. The player has to be ready mentally and has to be willing to take care of his body.”

James Pila initially injured his knee in a tournament back in June. Underestimating the severity of the injury, he continued training vigorously in the off-season in order to be ready for the first game of the season.

“I worked out almost everyday in the summer,” James said. “I would play basketball, go to the gym and even run up the hills in Westmount. My body, honestly, didn’t have much rest. And when I think about it, that might be why I got injured again.”

The injury that sidelined him for good happened last year, on the night of October 23, which also marked Dawson’s Division 2 basketball team’s home opener. A couple minutes into the second quarter of the game, James Pila saw a hole in the opposing team’s defense. Like any smart basketball player, he exploited the opening and went for a layup. It was like a déjà vu moment; his knee buckled up and he fell to the ground in pain. A couple weeks later, an MRI revealed he had torn his ACL. The idea of sitting out for the remainder of the season was tough for Pila to accept.

“I just froze,” said James when he found out about his ACL tear. “I was so shocked. I never had [an injury] like this and I didn’t know what to do… The injury was all I would think about when I was in class, when I was in school, and it would just mess up everything I did.”

Former Blues player, teammate and close friend of James Pila, Jeremy Gaco, described James’s injury as “devastating.” He added that “[James] was not only an instrumental part of our offense when we lost provincials last season, but he is like my brother. When he got injured, you could tell that he was not feeling well… it was like all the energy just left him. Usually James is a very happy guy, but when he tore his ACL, he got a little more reserved and cautious about it. It was different.”

“A torn ACL, like any injury, is definitely going to affect the player off the court,” said Beckles. “It’s as if they have a new pet that they have to take care of every single day. It’s like another responsibility. Something I do with my athletes who had to deal with ACL injuries is that I tell them to name their knees. It might seem funny, but it’s a way for them to cope with their situation and be positive.”

“When I’d think back to the moment I got hurt, I wished I hadn’t gone for the layup. I could’ve just shot the ball or passed it, and probably nothing would’ve happened. However, stuff like this happens,’’ said James. ‘‘I know it’s not my fault for the injury, but I was lucky enough to have people there to support me throughout [my recovery]. For now, I’m just going to focus on coming back healthy and a hundred percent next semester,” he added with a smile on his face.

James Pila had surgery for his knee on February 23rd. Even though he knows it will take quite some time to fully recover, he remains optimistic about returning to the hardwood and helping his team out for the 2017-18 season. He has been doing some drills and has been shooting around during practice. All he can do now is wait and stay positive.


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