Fighting Through The Pain
Three Knee Surgeries Later Candice Adams Won't Give Up
DENTON -- When Candice Adams wakes up in the morning, her knees sting.
Walking to class causes the bones to grind away at the little cartilage left.
While sitting in class they get stiff.
Four days a week, she spends an hour and a half in the training room getting deep tissue massages that nearly bring her to tears.
After practice and games, she struggles to walk.
Throughout the day she has ice bags on her knees.
Going to bed at night is never quick. The pain forces her to toss and turn until she's tired of fighting it and passes out. And even though the searing pain immediately returns when she awakens, she bears it. She accepts it.
She's a basketball player, and nothing is going to keep her off the court. No excuses allowed.
North Texas' senior guard's typical day is unlike most of her peers. But so is her character. The Mean Green's first and still only top-100 high school recruit sits 353 points away from eclipsing 1,000 for her career -- a feat just 13 North Texas women have done before her. And though her name might someday hang from a banner for the points she's scored, her legacy within the program will be for her perseverance and steadfast refusal to give in to the pain.
"She's an incredibly special kid that is a big time example of what it means to have heart and passion," Mean Green head coach Jalie Mitchell said. "The game means a lot to her. You see that off the court in what she has to go through just to practice. But you also see it on court. If you just watched her play you'd say she's the hardest working player on the team and have no idea of what she's been through."
What Adams has been through are three torn ACLs, a torn MCL and torn meniscuses in both knees, which she is currently playing through. Her kneecaps are littered with scars from three surgeries and countless procedures. Her knees have become such an intrusive part of her life that when she talks about them you'd think she's a licensed physician.
"I wouldn't want to have had my basketball career going any other way," Adams says with a stone-cold face. "Everything happens for a reason. I'll be stronger for it."
When Adams was in the eighth grade, her knee strength was tested at a basketball skills camp. The result: she had an 80 percent chance to tear her ACL. With no prior injuries, Adams did what any 14-year-old would do. She went on with her life and continued to play.
A year later, though, the ominous fortune came true.
Landing awkwardly on a defender's foot during a game, Adams felt her right knee go in every direction. The pain hurt so much she laid on the floor screaming. Her diagnosis was a torn right ACL, MCL and meniscus.
As she lay there screaming bloody murder, her grandparents and parents cried from the bleachers.
"As a parent, it's the worst feeling in the world," Candice Adams' father, Cavian Adams, says. "You hate to see her like that but I also knew she'd be okay. I knew she'd fight through it."
Immediately following surgery, Adams found herself in a bedchamber called a CPM (continuous passive motion) that constantly kept her legs bending and extending for rehabilitation. It was a painful and tiresome process that happened while blood was being drained from her knee regularly.
"It was just awful," Adams described.
Eight months later she was back on the court. Eight months of rehab and eight months of uncertainty.
Eight months only to have another setback.
Her first game back was against powerhouse Duncanville. Now a sophomore, Adams was having the game of her life when she went up for a rebound before halftime only to feel something uncomfortable in her knee when she landed.
Determined to play though it, Adams begged her coach to let her return for the second half. Her request was denied. When she went to the doctor later that night, she found out she'd torn her left ACL.
Though less painful, she was back to rehab.
"I don't think she ever once thought about quitting after the second time," Cavian Adams said. "But I think she was frustrated, because why'd this have to happen to her not just once but twice?"
Once again, Adams fought her way through rehab to make it back on the court where she'd maintain her health through the conclusion of her high school career at Cedar Hill.
Over her junior and senior seasons in high school, Adams became one of the best players in the country and was ranked No. 99 in the nation by ESPN. Tied to a commitment to the University of Texas because of a strong relationship with Longhorns head coach Gail Goestenkors, Adams pulled her commitment when Goestenkors resigned. Wanting to stay close to home, the No. 12-ranked player in the state chose North Texas for the bond she had built with the coaching staff.
"I'm laid back and family oriented," Adams explained. "If I went somewhere far away I'd feel as if I was losing a part of me. It felt like home here."
But halfway through her freshman season at North Texas the knee problems returned when she felt her left knee buckle during a February 2014 game. Adams only played 14 minutes before taking another trip to the doctor.
"It didn't hurt I just could feel something wrong," Adams said. "But it turned out I completely tore my ACL. There was nothing there."
With little cartilage left and afraid repairing the meniscus could leave her with none, the surgeons chose not to operate on her meniscus.
"Even after the second time I knew she'd be okay," Cavian Adams said. "But the third time is when I started thinking maybe she'd want to give up or do something different. But she never showed any of that. She loves ball too much. It's not in her to stop."
Without a second thought, as soon as she was cleared to play, Adams was back on the court where she'd average just over 6 points per game through her sophomore season. A consistent threat from beyond the arc, Adams made a combined 50 3-pointers in her first two seasons with the Mean Green.
Though Adams has had three knee surgeries, she's only missed eight games in college.
The only game she missed last season was at Texas State, when she felt pain in her left knee. Another visit to the doctor revealed a cyst in her knee due to the lack of cartilage. A growing fluid pocket had been created on the side of her leg trying to protect her knee, because her meniscus had been completely shaven away and is now floating in her leg. Meanwhile, her bone is moving and shifting, thus causing fluid to create the cyst.
The pain caused by playing through the injury, though, forced her to favor her right knee, which then led her to tearing the meniscus in that knee. And now, a cyst is forming in her right knee due to the second torn meniscus.
"I'm playing on two torn meniscus on both of my knees right now," Adams said. "I was supposed to have surgery after last year's season, but the doctor told us that because shaving away any more cartilage would be dangerous it'd be best if I didn't have the surgery.
"It hurts everyday," she added. "It hurts my knees to bend. It hurts to go up and down the court. It hurts to move laterally. I can tell when it's just not going to be a good day for me."
Following the latest setback, her parents began to worry about her future and how her knees would be once she hung up the jersey. Doctors and trainers have told her physical therapy might still be needed after her basketball career ends. Much further down the road, knee replacements are likely.
The 21-year-old typically goes to bed by lying on her side. If she's able to fall asleep, she's eventually awakened by thumping pain in both her knees. She tries to straighten her legs but that hurts. So she bends her knees, but that causes a pinching pain.
"A lot of times I'm just too tired to fight it anymore and I just let it be," Adams said.
Adams described her average night following a two-hour practice. With all her teammates long gone, she sat with her legs rested on a chair, ice slowly melting from bags on both knees. It's 6 p.m. in the Super Pit. She's been there since noon and spent most of it in the athletic trainer's office preparing her knees for practice and then recovering from it.
As she sat, she explained how she doesn't believe her knees are weak. She's still playing and she makes it clear she isn't going to let her knees get in the way of accomplishing her goals and living her life.
"I have such an amazing opportunity," Adams said. "This is all I can do to try and fulfill this opportunity and live my life to the fullest. I don't really know what else to do. Plus, I've made it this far I can't turn away now."
A few days later at a practice, Adams is wearing her standard practice gear. But today is one of those days. Even though she spent an hour preparing for practice receiving treatment in the trainer's room, she's on the bench icing her knee. Then she's on the stationary bike before getting her knees stretched and massaged. All while practice is going on.
Being sidelined doesn't stop her. As she lies on the table, rides the bike or sits on the bench, she is focused on practice. She's not only watching what's going on, she's involved. As the trainer painfully bends and extends her knee on the table, Adams is calling out the plays to herself as if she's in the drill, giving words of encouragement to underclassmen and listening to Mitchell.
"I could understand if one day she came to me and said, `I can't do it anymore'," Mitchell said. "But I don't think those are words she knows. She believes with her whole heart in this game, this university and what she's doing."
The next day at practice, Adams is back on the court running, taking charges and playing aggressive with no fear, even though she knows she's one wrong step from gruesome pain and a career ending injury.
But that's what they told her three knee surgeries ago.
"Everything happens for a reason," Adams said. "Why I've had to go through this I don't know. But that's why I can't stop playing."