Gaining a whole new perspective

On bad days at basketball practice, Julie Gompers cries.

Not tears from getting hurt or from getting chewed out by her coach. No, these tears are much worse. These tears come from watching a game she loves but will never play again.

Gompers, a junior, came to BGSU to play basketball. Period. It was her passion, what she woke up every morning

thinking about.

But she never dreamed a rare medical condition would cut her career short.

In high school she was ranked the top senior point guard in her home state of West Virginia. She spent her freshman year at BG as back-up to senior point guard Lindsay Austin, gaining valuable experience battling the 2004 Mid-American Conference defensive player of the year every day in practice.

With Austin’s graduation, Gompers was ready to step up and contribute. She stayed in BG for the summer to work on her game and hit the weights, determined to get stronger and earn that starting point guard spot.

But fate had other plans for the 5-foot-6 pre-med major.

That summer her left arm started to feel achy. Then it got stiff. Then the skin became hard as rock from the pressure of built-up fluid. Eventually she couldn’t straighten her arm or make a fist. Her arm and hand would occasionally go numb because the swelling was compressing her nerves.

“My body just kind of had a weird reaction to everything I’d been doing,” Gompers said. “It was overworked in a way and basically my body started fighting against me.”

This reaction is called compartment syndrome, a result of muscle overuse. The muscles swell, causing a pressure so great that the muscles in the arms or legs don’t get enough blood. If nothing is done the tissue could die from the lack of blood. The rare condition is seen most often in athletes.

On Dec. 20 of her sophomore year, Gompers had surgery to relieve the pressure by removing connective tissue from her arm, “right there, there and there,” she said, pointing to three long scars on her left forearm.

She was told she’d be back on the court in six to eight weeks. But, once again, it just wasn’t meant to be.

The condition didn’t subside. After seeing countless doctors this past summer, she was ultimately told she shouldn’t play college basketball. But she wasn’t ready to give up.

“I tried and I went through pre-season and I was doing fairly well,” Gompers said. “And with a couple weeks left my body started shutting down. I started swelling

up everywhere.”

Her doctors and parents knew this was really it, the end of her basketball career. It just wasn’t worth the pain anymore. The hard part was convincing the girl who had been in love with basketball since she was 9 years old. The girl whose older sister had played Division I basketball at St. Francis and whose younger sister recently committed to play at the University of Findlay.

“I was forced to look at the bigger picture of things, look at it when I’m 22 years old and my career’s over and I don’t want to have something that I’m going to have to deal with the rest of my life,” Gompers said. “For the next year and a half my body just needs to recover, have time to heal.”

At first she couldn’t talk about the end of her career. She couldn’t even tell her teammates.

“We couldn’t believe what happened,” said teammate Ali Mann. “She never let us know how much it was affecting her until coach Miller told us she couldn’t play anymore. It was a pretty

emotional day.”

“The last few months have been extremely, extremely hard for me,” Gompers said. “I can’t even really describe it. I was obviously heartbroken. My team was heartbroken. My coaches were.”

BG women’s basketball coach, Curt Miller, still remembers the day his top point guard recruit from the class of 2003 called and committed to his program. He was ecstatic to land what he called “one of the hardest workers in my 16 years of coaching.”

But one of the traits he saw in his new recruit – her ability on the court to make everyone around her better – is one she continues to show from the bench.

“It’s unbelievable how valuable Julie is to the team without playing,” Miller said. “Being our hardest worker before the illness is great motivation to the team because they know Julie would give her left arm to be out there playing again.”

Gompers is starting to help coach the team, but the transition hasn’t been easy.

“It’s just hard because so many people don’t understand that it becomes so much more than just a game in your life,” she said. “For so long I couldn’t even go to practice because I’d just cry. I couldn’t even watch it. But after awhile I just learned that by being there and supporting my teammates it’s kind of like closure in a way.”

One of the positives Gompers has taken from being sidelined is a new understanding of the game she loves.

“You realize the impact that you can have on a team without scoring any points, without being on the floor,” she said. “When you’re playing you think about the sport kind of in a selfish way. Like, ‘I had a good game because I scored 20 points.’ Now, it’s like you look at the game and you realize it’s more than just your personal accolades. It’s about your team and the relationships you form with them. “

Gompers is still every much a part of the team now as she was before her injury. When friends and fans ask about the team she still refers to it as “we.” She goes to practice and is on the bench at every game and in the huddle at every timeout.

“She always has little pep talks for us about playing hard and playing every game like it’s our last,” Mann said.

Although her body can’t take the abuse of college basketball, Gompers can still do light exercise like running on a treadmill. But there will always be a void.

“I think the hardest part for me now is that I desperately miss the adrenaline rush,” she said. “I miss the rush of hitting a big shot, or someone coming up to you after a game and being like, ‘hey you

did awesome.’ “

But through it all Gompers said she’s kept a healthy perspective.

“If this is the worst thing that’s happened to me in my 20 years so far, then I’m so blessed.”