SFU women’s basketball Ozioma Nwabuko discusses her return from injury

A sit-down with one of Simon Fraser’s most inspiring female athletes

Nwabuko is leading the team with a .591 field goal percentage so far this season. (Photo courtesy of SFU Athletics)

By: Shepard Kanyekanye

Year: Third-year

Hometown: Port Coquitlam, BC

Major: Sociology major, and Criminology minor

Ozioma Nwabuko, an energetic force on the SFU women’s basketball team, has bounced back extraordinarily from a knee injury that sidelined her for 13 months and forced her to miss all of last season. However, as frustrating as this time was for her, it gave her time to refocus on certain things outside basketball, such as her Christian faith. This faith created a strong mental foundation to allow a community of people in her life to not only support her but comfort her as well.

This season, Nwabuko is leading the Clan in field goal percentage (.593) and rebounds per game (5.7). She is also a force on the defensive end and consistently locks down the opposing team’s best player. With her back on the team, this year’s SFU women’s basketball team have enjoyed a lot of success, currently boasting a 12–4 conference record and poised to make some noise in the playoffs.

The Peak: Who would you say is the most influential person in your life?

Ozioma Nwabuko: My mother. That woman is like a powerhouse, she’s honestly my idol. I just feel like she’s the smartest person I know and she also used to be an athlete, she used to do track and field.

P: Where would say your passion for basketball comes from?

ON: So we had just moved to Canada and I wanted to play volleyball or basketball because they seemed so much fun. A couple of years down the line [Grade 8] I started playing both of them and the length I had was a big part of me coming into basketball.

I started playing with a club coached by Coach Langford, and he took me under his wing because I was not going to be good enough to make the Grade 9 team. So that summer, he helped me work out so that I made the team that year, and in the year after, he would help me again by finding [me] a team for the summer. So seeing how basketball could form such a community was what made me more into it, because before it was just this fun sport that I thought would be nice to play.

P: Could you take me through the knee injury that happened?

ON: My injury wasn’t a one-time, something happened and my knee snapped. It built up over time. Grade 10 was when I started having knee pains and stuff but it really wasn’t a big deal [ . . . ] So it never got worse than that during my high school career but coming to university amps up drastically how much you train, how much you play and how hard you play.

After preseason training, I found that my knee had gotten significantly worse, so by the time we were playing games I was already wearing a knee brace. I played the entire season with it and got some minutes as a freshman but it just got really painful. The doctor [said it was] just a torn meniscus so it shouldn’t [have been] that much of a problem, but because it [was, we’d do] a procedure and trim it.

I was told that I was going to have a six-week recovery period. However, during the surgery they saw that the tear was a lot worse than they anticipated and that the layer of cartilage over my femur was gone, so I had been having bone-on-bone grinding in my knee. That extended the healing time because the procedure they had to do couldn’t guarantee a certain recovery time, since everybody heals differently. It went from six weeks to six months to nine months. Still, some things were not great, so thirteen months later, I came back.

P: How was that process of taking in this constant bad news and not being able to play?

ON: As much as basketball stresses me out its still always been a release from the rest of the stresses of my life, because when I’m on the court, I’m not thinking about the midterm I have tomorrow or the final I’m yet to study for — it’s just basketball. So having that release taken away from me, especially so unexpectedly, [was difficult]. [. . .]

So I found that that year I struggled with staying motivated with a lot of things in my life. It was almost that post-athletic depression people can get, and not being able to do any form of exercise — for the first two months, I wasn’t allowed to walk on my own, but it got better towards the end. I mean, there were lessons to be taken from it and I think anyone who has had an injury out of any sport or anything that they love for a while can attest that it’s terrible in the beginning. It can be terrible throughout, but your sport, as much as you love it, is not your entire life.

It’s coming to find other things that define you and finding your identity in other things.I know for me that year was an interesting battle with my faith and figuring out who I was in God as opposed to my worth being equal to my performance on the basketball court. So I began to ask, “Who am I outside basketball? Who am I when it’s over?” By the end of it, this injury was probably the best thing that could have happened to me.

Athlete’s Corner:

Everything happens for a purpose and that purpose is hardly ever visible while you’re going through it. One of my housemates spoke to me about this analogy about a crucible. Basically, a crucible is something you put metals in to purify them and the longer the metal is in the crucible, which is this incredibly hot oven, the purer it comes out. I think that’s the truth for a lot of setbacks in our lives. The worse it feels while you are in it the better you will be for it.

It’s so easy to say, but I know that when I was going through it, so many people told me it was for a reason. It’s so true but you can’t see it at the time. You need to trust your process [ . . . ]

For me it was faith, but not everyone is Christian. But find that thing that feels unconditional. I mean I believe in God and I believe in a God that loves me unconditionally. It sounds wild because I believe we are just used to this conditional love were if you do well people love you a bit more [ . . . ] Finding something in your life that makes you feel that way no matter how much you messed up or feel like you’re not living up to expectations, something you can still go back to and still has love there, still have someone who genuinely cares.