Behind the Camera: Janee Thompson’s Comeback

Britney Howard works at UK Athletics as a staff photographer. From time to time, she puts her camera down to reflect on some of her favorite photos and the moments they capture. Today Howard writes about Janee Thompson's return from an injury that ended her junior season. 

I was never much of an athlete growing up. I was that awkward kid with asthma in gym class, the one that begged for a doctor’s note to get out of the mile run fitness test. Thankfully, in high school I discovered my aptitude with a camera and my love for journalism, and suddenly I had this magical excuse to hang out in cool places I’d never been before, to meet people I’d normally have never spoken to. Sports that I wasn’t skilled enough to play, I’d found a new way to be a part of and experience. And now, 10 years later, here I am photographing one of the elite athletic programs in the country. 

This is my fifth year here at UK as a photographer, and my fifth year traveling with the women’s basketball team. I’ve experienced so many highs and lows, big wins, long bus rides, inspirational comebacks. One of the hardest and yet most inspiring things I’ve ever seen in my time here though will always be Janee Thompson’s ankle injury at South Carolina last season, and her comeback following that gruesome moment. 

Late in the second half of a very physical game against the then-No. 1 Gamecocks, Janee fell and let out one of the most pained screams I’ve ever heard, and her foot was very visibly pointed the wrong way. It’s still hard for me to think about and I can’t imagine how she feels about it even nine months later. Many of our girls dropped to the floor; a lot of people were frozen in shock. I really don’t think there was a dry eye in the place as her pained cries echoed through that packed arena. I was sitting there hugging my camera under the basket praying that she would just have enough adrenaline to go numb. 

I don’t remember what made me decide to start taking pictures, but I’m so glad I did. After they got her loaded on a stretcher the entire team sprinted to her side, and through gritted teeth Janee raised up a pointed finger to the crowd. 

Photos like these rarely see the light of day. No one wants to celebrate moments like this. But they are so important in understanding the magnitude of such a subtle moment like Janee running out onto the basketball court for Sunday night’s exhibition to lead her team into a fresh season. It was easy to forget watching her weave down the court with the ball against Union, that at the beginning of this year she wasn’t even walking. Seven months ago she couldn’t even lace up two shoes.  

Witnessing moments like this, when courageous people come out on top, is my favorite part of my job. It’s an honor to preserve those moments forever.