Giving up not an option

Feb. 23, 2009


By Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations

Eleia Roddy was at her breaking point.

After three-injury riddled years, she was ready to hang up her sneakers and call it a career.

“I just wanted to quit,” Roddy said. “I wanted to forget about it all and quit.”

Forgive Roddy that the thought crossed her mind. Hundreds, even thousands of hours of physical therapy tend to have that effect on people.

The amount of surgeries Roddy has gone through while she's been at UK seems almost too outrageous to be true.

After 15 games her freshman season, Roddy had surgery to repair her medial meniscus in her knee. Everything appeared to be fine following the surgery and Roddy came back for a healthy sophomore year in which she averaged 7.8 points and 6.7 rebounds per game.

But that's when the injury bug took its biggest bite.

Just before her junior season, she tore her anterior cruciate ligament in her knee and underwent ACL reconstruction surgery. She redshirted and missed the entire season. Then, during the summer before her redshirt junior year, her knee was scoped for a partial medial meniscectomy.

Finally, all appeared to be well heading into last season, but around September of 2007, Roddy could feel something was not still not right and began having complications. She underwent surgery in November to remove loose bodies and missed the first 12 games of the season.

In all, Roddy suffered through four surgeries on her right knee in just three years. It was enough pain, injuries and misery to make any normal person quit.

“I thought about giving up (last year) because I wanted that to be my comeback year,” Roddy said. “Hurting your knee seems like such a small thing but you lose all the strength in your quad and your balance.”

Her comeback year would be halted one more season, but Roddy decided it was worth the wait. Even after years of physical therapy, Roddy was back in the weight room and pool, doing countless hours of lunges, squats and resistance training with a medicine ball.

There were times where the thought of quitting crossed her mind, but with the help of her faith and the support of her family and coaches, particularly assistant coach Wendy Palmer, Roddy fought through the fourth surgery in hopes of returning to the court.

“My family always told me to finish what you started,” Roddy said.

Roddy returned to the court in 2007-08, but she was just a shell of the player her coaches knew she could become. The urgency of her senior season loomed, so Roddy sought to get stronger and better for her final season in Lexington.

She headed back home to Columbus, Ohio, where she played pickup games with men nearly every day. She also took on Mitchell's team-wide challenge for each player to make 35,000 shots, and she did so before summer's end.

Still, after four knee surgeries and months spent on the shelf away from the game, nobody knew exactly what to expect of Roddy in her final season.

Roddy knew she would be good, but even she couldn't imagine that she would be as dominant as she's become this season.

In missing only one game this year, which came on Sunday because of illness, Roddy has anchored the Wildcats' interior offense and defense. She's the team's second-leading scorer and rebounder with 12.2 points and 8.5 boards per game.

But that's just the beginning of the story.

In her final season as a Wildcat, her first full healthy year since the 2005-06 season, Roddy has become a double-double machine. The Columbus, Ohio, native leads the Southeastern Conference and is tied 11th nationally in double-doubles with 11.

Roddy said the biggest difference has been a change in mindset. With the guidance of Palmer, she said she's become a much more confident and aggressive player.

“People don't realize the last part of rehabilitation after surgery is the mental healing,” Palmer said. “That can take quite some time. You don't trust yourself physically. Doctors and trainers say, ‘Oh, you're fine. You're stronger and better than you were before the injuries.' Mentally, you still have a place of doubt and you're afraid. You second guess yourself and start to protect yourself without consciously knowing that.”

It took a while for her to get over that mental hump, particularly when Roddy returned to game action last season, but her offseason work to become a more a confident and aggressive player has certainly paid off this season.

During a streak earlier in the season, she recorded seven straight double-doubles, joining Valerie Still as the only player in school history to chart six or more. She has become one of just three players in the SEC to rank in the top 17 of scoring and top five in rebounding, something that never seemed possible just a year and half ago when she battling through her fourth knee surgery.

“She's been a huge producer for us offensively, scoring and rebounding,” Mitchell said. “She's a major part of our defensive situation. It's gratifying as a coach to have a good player out there that you can depend on every game.

“Those injuries just get so frustrating, he said. “To see her have to rehab so much and come back so many times, you really have to have some toughness about you to bounce back, hang in there and be a fifth-year senior and produce the way she has.”

Toughness has what has made Roddy become the heart of the team. She's been physically imposing this year inside the paint, and when she's playing her best, UK can compete with just about anybody, as was the case on Thursday against nationally ranked and rival Tennessee.

Despite second-half foul trouble, Roddy scored 18 points and pulled down seven rebounds in a historic upset of the Lady Volunteers, UK's first win over Tennessee at Memorial Coliseum in 23 years.

“It's been great just to be back out there all the time contributing,” Roddy said. “This season has been full of ups and down, but when you're out you don't have a chance to have those.”

The Wildcats haven't had a stellar year record wise – UK is 14-13, 4-8 in conference play heading into Thursday's final home game against Georgia – but Roddy said she would much rather be grinding her way through the season's struggles than watching from the bench.

“I missed being able to compete with my teammates,” Roddy said. “That's probably what I missed the most was just being with them. I would much rather be playing through the ups and downs than being injured and not being able to help them out.”

Roddy still has pain in her knee from time to time, a problem that probably will live with her for the rest of her life. Sometimes during practices she has to sit out a drill or two just to give her knee a rest, but that doesn't stop her from doing the extra work.

“When they're running sprints, I'm doing extra push-ups instead,” Roddy said.

Roddy's career has obviously been a long and painful journey. She has faced four knee surgeries and the possibility of never reaching the level she hoped to achieve when she arrived at UK, yet she battled back anyway.

Now, on Thursday night, she'll be honored alongside two other seniors, Carly Ormerod and Jenn'e Jackson, for Senior Night. Fighting through injury and after injury, Roddy has given the UK program five years of every ounce of blood, sweat and tears that she has.

All she asks in return on Thursday is that people never forget.

“I want people to remember that I never gave up.”