I’d become complacent.

Because, frankly it seemed like the easiest route.

Since late August, when school started, two – sometimes three – afternoons a week, I’d left the elementary school where I volunteer afternoons by 3:10, driven from the far southeast side of San Angelo to the far north side, waited in a line of idling cars driven by tired-of-waiting people intent on holding their place and blocking any others from getting around until their person slowly came out from the school and climbed in their vehicle. Sooner rather than later, out of the sea of Lake View High School students, my person, granddaughter Kristena, would appear.

Rarely would she be smiling, but she was never really frowning either. Her answers to my “Hi, Honey, how was your day?” were the usual one syllable answer, but routinely followed by, “Can we stop and get a water?”

And then I would drive her to the far southwest side of San Angelo, to Shannon Sports Medicine for physical therapy.

There hasn’t been a week, school in or school out, that she’s gone without the at-least twice weekly – sometimes three – therapy sessions. They told us before the MRI in late July, that if in fact it was a torn ACL, it would likely be a six-month post-surgical recovery and course of therapy before she could play sports.

“We’ll try,” her orthopedic surgeon said, “to get you back for track.”

I’m 64, and six months of Kristena missing sports seemed like an eternity to me. It wasn’t a very promising carrot for Kristena, who’s 15, but from the corner she felt backed into, it was the carrot she had to cling to.

Neither of us could imagine life without her playing sports, especially with her sophomore year seeming so promising. Had she played, she would have made varsity volleyball, basketball and track.

She was stoic to say the least through the long ordeal. She’d flash brief like days-of-old smiles when she’d pass a milestone and there were even briefer bouts of grief, when after a therapy session she’d get back into the car, silver tears spilling out from her eyes and dripping off her long lashes.

“Today was a bad day,” she would say.

I’d ask her what Brian, her therapist, had said.

“Keep trying,” she answered. “He said it’s going to get better.”

And she followed his advice. She never quit trying. She lived and dreamed for the day “it was going to get better.”

We heard all the war stories. We’d stop somewhere on the way home from therapy, her wearing athletic shorts and the brace, and someone would feel called on to tell her of someone they knew who’s torn ACL had been the end of their playing sports. We knew some who knew some who’d come through, and who warned the test to get back into sports was almost impossible to pass.

But there were those, who knew, and who said, “Don’t give up. Keep at it. Don’t quit.”

And that was the high road Kristena chose.

Wednesday was the day of the feared test. We didn’t change our school-to-therapy routine. Acted like it was just a regular day. But months before, I’d stopped waiting in the waiting room. I’d shop at the craft store across the street, go to the nearby convenience store and get an iced tea and play Solitaire on my phone or make phone calls. Wednesday, my heart beating a little harder my hopes in high gear, I went into the waiting room to wait.

It was an agonizing wait.

I heard encouraging snippets at first. Brian saying, “Perfect.” And in a few minutes, he’d say it again. “Perfect.” But there was an eternally long three minutes, where I could hear Kristena gasping and moaning, and Brian saying, “Keep going. You’ve got this. Keep going. Come on, you can do it.”

A mom came out from the therapy room and said, “Boy, he’s really working one girl in there.” And then, all I could hear from the other side of the wall was silence.

A few more minutes passed before my girl, face decorated with both the beautiful smile and the streaming tears, came through the door announcing, “I passed.”

I was up out of my chair crying, and hugging her, thinking my heart might burst. Fellow members of the waiting room crowd dabbed at their own eyes. Their pains have been similar, our celebration struck a chord.

Track season’s just begun and my girl can run.


Editor’s note: Candace Cooksey Fulton, formerly of Brownwood, is a freelance writer now living in San Angelo. She writes weekly columns for the Brownwood Bulletin and the San Angelo Standard-Times, each unique to the particular paper. She can be reached at ccfulton2002@yahoo.com.