Fighting back: Paradise seniors return from knee injuries

By Reece Waddell | Published Saturday, January 19, 2019
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Back in Action

BACK IN ACTION – Paradise seniors Christina Tipton (left) and Maddie Mitschke were cleared for a limited return to basketball activities last week after tearing their ACLs in June of last year. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

During a summer league basketball game June 4, Paradise senior Maddie Mitschke crashed the glass for a routine rebound.

The 2017-2018 Wise County Co-MVP had made a living pulling down tough rebounds over the past three years, averaging 10.1 boards last season. But this play was different.

When she landed, Mitschke’s knee buckled underneath her.

“I knew something was wrong so I just kind of sat down,” Mitschke recalled. “It didn’t really hurt that bad. I walked off.”

As Mitschke made her way to the locker room, Paradise coach Chad Woodard made his way into the gym after learning his starting point guard just went down. By the time Woodard got there, one of his other guards, senior Christina Tipton, hit the deck as well.

“At that time, Maddie was in the training room,” Woodard said. “I saw Christina’s [injury] happen. She was driving to the basket, having a great game, and she stepped on somebody’s foot and her knee turned.”

Within five minutes, two of Woodard’s seniors were on training tables getting their knees examined.

“We were both in the training room just lying there,” Tipton said. “We were scared – really scared. We just talked to each other and held each other’s hands. It was upsetting.”

Mitschke and Tipton did not return to the game and went to the doctor the next day. MRIs confirmed their worst fears.

With the start of basketball season four months away, both suffered anterior cruciate ligament tears less than five minutes apart from each other.

“At that moment I thought, ‘Is this really happening?'” Woodard said. “As a coach, you hope to not have those injuries in a season. But for them to happen the way they did, it’s pretty odd.”

The news left the pair devastated.

“It just broke my heart into little pieces,” Mitschke said. “Missing everything has been the hardest part. Athletics is what I do. I’m not a singer or something, I do sports. Not being able to do it has totally affected me.”

Mitschke tore the ACL in her right knee and Tipton tore the same ligament in her left knee. Doctors used patellar grafts to repair and reconstruct their ACLs.

The injury left Mitschke and Tipton on crutches and in bulky braces after their surgeries.

“My best friend had to come take care of me because I was in so much pain,” Tipton said. “All I felt was pain, pretty much. Learning to walk again was hard. I still catch myself leaning on my good leg. In basketball when I’m shooting I overcompensate really bad.”

With their knees repaired, both girls began physical therapy together.

As Mitschke and Tipton worked tirelessly to get back for some of the basketball season, the duo soon realized the uphill battle they faced. Walking and even bending their knee was a painful task that resulted in a whirlwind of emotions.

“Together we have cried a lot of tears,” Mitschke said. “It was really hard because you had to start over. Learning to walk again made me cry. Trying to lift my leg made me cry. Trying to learn how to do everything again was very difficult.”

The pair continued to rehab as basketball season quickly approached, missing class or practice to attend therapy. When the regular season began Nov. 9, Mitschke and Tipton found themselves at the end of bench rather than in the starting lineup.

It was an unusual feeling for the two seniors, especially Mitschke, who averaged a double-double last year. But for their coach, not being able to play them was the most agonizing feeling.

“I’m not going to lie, it’s been tough,” Woodard said. “There have been times where I’m like ‘Let’s put them in.’ And you can’t, and you know you can’t. You hurt for them.

“In basketball, in any sport, there’s always life lessons. As coaches, we hope to teach those. This is a tough one. But you have to realize everything can be going your way and in the blink of an eye your life can change. It’s how you handle those experiences.”

Woodard admits the injuries have been trying for him. He credits his assistant – Mitschke’s mother, Rhea – for helping him maintain his composure the past several months.

“She’s the reason I haven’t gone off the deep end,” Woodard said. “She’s been so strong.”

Last Tuesday against Breckenridge, Mitschke and Tipton were finally cleared for a limited return. They were only able to play for four minutes, but just having them on the court was a boost for Woodard and the rest of the team.

“It felt like a second chance,” Tipton said. “I did not think I would get this far this fast.

“It’s a learning experience to not give up. You look at things from a different point of view.”

With only five regular season games remaining, the Lady Panthers are still in the playoff hunt. Paradise went into Friday’s game with rival Boyd at 3-5 in District 7-3A – two games out of the fourth and final playoff spot.

For Mitschke and Tipton, getting to experience the postseason with their teammates one final time would make all the effort to get back worth it.

“Senior year has not gone like how I expected it to go, but making the playoffs would be perfect and the icing on the cake, especially with everything that’s gone on so far,” Mitschke said. “This is my family. I love them all so much. I would do anything for my coaches and my teammates.”

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