Alana Beard: Injury Is The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me

December 9, 2010 - 5:30 AM Emeryville, CA (10 miles outside of San Francisco)

Beard warms up with a run.

The streets are silent, a deep fog encompasses the city, and rain sprinkles down before the madness of another day begins.

Alana Beard’s alarm sounds, but, just like every other day, it is the clock that is late. Beard has been up for about fifteen minutes, never waiting for her alarm to wake her. She’s self-motivated, and she’s ready for the hardest part on her road to recovery: rehab.

“Basketball is easy. Rehab is the hard part,” says Beard. “You will never know how hard it is until you go through it. It takes a lot of heart. It takes a lot of determination to get back to that level you once were. Nobody is going to push you through it. Nobody can do your rehab for you. Nobody can get up at 5:30 every single morning for you. You have to do it yourself and you have to want to do it and I do.”

6:25 AM Active Care Center San Francisco, CA

Beard is beginning her warm-up for today’s rehab. Active Care owner Lisa M. Giannone has trained some of the best athletes and fiercest competitors this world has ever seen. Nonetheless, Alana is the only one that’s ever asked the workout facility to open early. Prior to Beard the doors never opened before 7:00.

“It’s great, I heard beforehand that we were going to love her and that she was a cool girl," said Giannone. "She definitely works hard and will do anything you throw at her and give 100%. I love that personality.”

Giannone has seen this determination before. She helped the greatest Wide Receiver in NFL history, Jerry Rice, recover from injury and she puts Alana on the same level as far as work ethic is concerned. It’s a statement that Beard comprehends, but doesn’t fully appreciate. It’s the ultimate compliment that Giannone can give her.

6:45 AM

Beard has finished up the first of two warm-up exercises. Every day she begins with two 20-minute cardio sessions. Today she begins with the stair master and ends with the treadmill.

Two months ago Beard jogged for the first time at full strength. Today she’s not jogging, today she’s sprinting. She sprints in intervals, jogging at 7 MPH then sprinting for about 10-15 seconds before going back to the jog. She begins at 10 MPH and increases .5 mph with every rep. She maxes out at 13 MPH.

The warm-up is intense, just the way Beard likes it. She remembers her first day here the “consultation” that turned into a sweat filled workout. She also remembers her first run-in with Carolyn Higgins, the clinical director of Active Care and the woman in charge of Beard’s warm-up routines and day-to-day workouts.

Beard doing squats with Higgins.

Higgins asked Beard how the 20 minutes on the spin bike were. A confident Beard said, “easy”. A mistake she hasn’t made again. 40 minutes later she was exhausted.

“We can challenge her day in and day out and there is no mental fatigue,” said Gannione. “Maybe she has it but she hides it really well. She also sets up her life so that she comes daily. She doesn’t have to come daily necessarily. She comes daily at 6:30 rain or shine. It’s fun.”

Basketball wasn’t always fun. In fact for a long time it was just a “job” for Beard. On her website she lists one of her biggest fears as failing. That fear has driven her throughout her career, and it also almost ruined her.

At some point that fear turned her passion into an obsession. Every failure in her career was magnified in her mind. When she didn’t make the U.S. Olympic team in 2008, her emotions hit rock bottom and her game suffered.

She admits. “It kept me from having the season I was having.”

7:00 AM

The warm-up is over. Now it’s on to rehab. Beard works on rebuilding her ankle and building a strong base for the rest of her lower body.

The exercises jump from one to the next, squats, jump training, calf raises…you name it and she’s working on it. The sweat pours down.

“It’s very hard. It’s been nine months. At the very beginning I would work my butt off to try to get back to a certain point and sometimes you walk out and you don’t feel like you progress. But you come back the next day and you go at it again and you keep going at it until you start seeing results. I’m seeing results now.”

It’s been nine months since her surgery. Nine months since her doctor told her that this injury could be a career ender. Tears crawl down her face as she tells the story.

It’s hard to imagine that just a few hours later she’ll tell me the injury is the best thing that ever happened to her.

8:10 AM

Beard working with Giannone.

Giannone finishes the workout by focusing on Beard’s core. The abdominal workouts are numerous. She completes the 100 minute session by putting Beard on a padded table and having her work on reverse crunches with a medicine ball between her legs. Beard pushes herself. Beard always pushes herself.

The workout comes to an end and Giannone massages her ankle as we talk about the morning workout. It’s the first of what will be two workouts today for Beard.

Five days a week Beard comes to Active Care, every other day she rotates her second workout between lifting and shooting. Today’s second workout will come tonight, Beard will get out on the court and put up 400 shots.

“It feels so good to have the ball in my hands,“ said Beard. “The shot feels smooth, everything just felt in line. From the setup to the releasing of the ball and I can still dribble (laughing).”

Even more so, she is having fun again playing basketball.

April, 2010 - Washington DC

Alana Beard’s surgery is successful. A grueling rehab process is about to begin and surprisingly Beard isn’t focused on making her ankle better. She’s figuring out how to make herself better.

For too long everything in her life has taken a back seat to the game of basketball. Her family and her faith have always been on the back burner. Her obsession to “beat the game” is all she thought about, and starting now that is about to change.

That change begins with a visit. Beard invites her niece to come out and spend a month with her. It’s a time in her life she’ll never forget, a scenario that in previous years would have been unheard of.

“I never would have been able to do that if this injury didn’t happen. Maybe, maybe I would have said she could come for three days and that’s it.”

The time off also helped her find her faith. If you ever want to find Alana on a Sunday morning your best bet is in front of the computer, watching a church service online.

“I know how to fix things in my life now. Before basketball was the only problem and I couldn’t fix it.”

Her workouts and focus are as intense as ever, yet there is a difference in the way she acts and speaks. No longer is she looking back. Her life off the court and on the court are finally becoming in balance.

“It doesn’t feel like a job anymore. I lost a love of the game because it became an obstacle more than a dream.”

It’s a balance few if any players ever can find. Her drive remains, her priorities have changed, and to think it just took a career threatening injury to make it happen.