By Sean Jensen
On the eve of her first major surgery last month, Alison Hinck wrestled with a range of anxieties while sitting in her bedroom.
Uncertainty about the interest of collegiate recruiters since a torn ACL in her left knee would force the White Bear Lake Area High School senior to miss the entire soccer season and most of the basketball season.
Fear about her major knee surgery, a procedure that can take 60 to 90 minutes.
Doubt about whether she would ever return to her old form in either sport, especially basketball.
“I was scared,” Alison told FCA Minnesota, “and I was nervous.”
Then Alison, 17, heard her computer ding.
There was a Twitter message from Jamie Ogden, a metro director for the FCA, who attached a video link. She opened it.
On her computer screen was Kyle Gibson, whom she’d met as part of an FCA group the Twins pitcher had hosted and encouraged at Target Field in April.
“Heard you had trouble with your knee here recently,” Gibson said in the video. “God’s there for you all the time. He’s not letting you down. Even though this is a tough time in your life, he’s going to bring you through it.”
Gibson shared how devastated he was when he learned in November 2011 that he’d need to undergo Tommy John surgery, an elbow procedure widely considered the most devastating injury for a pitcher. Gibson also shared how his wife Elizabeth, a gymnast, had undergone five knee surgeries.
“It’s not easy,” Gibson said in the 53-second video, “but you can do it. Keep working hard, and keep God first, and everything’s going to work out.”
The message couldn't have come at a better time for Alison.
“It was really cool,” she said. “It was really comforting and encouraging, knowing that he had to go through things like that, and he’s made it through."
Kyle is humbled to help Alison, but he isn't taking any credit.
"I feel I’ve been put here for a reason," Kyle said. "I don't see that video as being just me. I feel that maybe that’s what God saw that she needed in her life at that moment, so he had me do it."
Finding her way
Alison always loved sports.
She and her older brother Tanner played different sports, but they both loved basketball above everything else.
In fifth grade, Alison joined the Minnesota Heat, an AAU team based in New Brighton. Though a fierce competitor, Alison’s skill didn’t shine in her early years.
Then things changed in high school.
“She really came into her own,” Heat coach Kelly Lund said.
Pressed onto the varsity roster because of an injury, Alison provided depth as a freshman. During that school year, she also attended a weekly FCA meeting. Alison appreciated a chance to connect with older student-athletes and hear their stories and inspirational messages.
Her favorite part was the prayers to close each meeting.
As a sophomore, Alison’s ability as a ball handler and pass distributor earned her the starting point guard position.
But Lund said there’s something else that started to set Alison apart.
After a loss, Alison would show up before the next practice and work on whatever had ailed her in the previous game, be it shooting free throws or three-pointers, or beating a press.
“She would take our losses so personal,” Lund said. “But she was so willing to go out there and do the work.”
As a junior, Alison was voted her high school team's captain, named the MVP and selected to the all-conference team. Her game had expanded, going from dribbler and creator to shooter and penetrator.
She was dangerous in transition, capable of opening up easy baskets for teammates but also finishing in traffic, oftentimes with a dribble hesitation move she’d work hard to develop. But her unselfishness led to a small problem.
“You have to beg her to shoot sometimes, because she’s such a team player,” Lund said. “She’s sometimes not aware that she’s that good of a shooter.”
But in May, during a spring tournament in Bloomington with the Heat, Alison crumpled near the baseline after a fast break.
Her left knee had twisted, and she screamed and cried in pain.
The previous year, she’d suffered a PCL tear, but she healed naturally in six weeks.
This latest knee injury, though, felt different, more painful.
“I don’t have kids,” Lund said. “But Alison is like a daughter to me. I wanted to make it better for her, but it’s just so hard, especially at such a crucial time in her career.”
Alison expressed one of her most serious fears as her father Bill helped carry her off the court.
“I’ll never be the same player again,” she whispered to Bill, an assistant coach on the Heat.
Those words devastated Bill.
The initial diagnosis on Alison's knee was a possible dislocation. But as days passed, Alison’s knee continued to swell and still felt unstable.
An MRI nearly a week after the injury revealed what she’d feared: A torn ACL, in addition to MCL damage.
For days, Alison was overcome with grief.
“From a family perspective, it was a very low time,” Bill said. “She’s known for her toughness. But this is nothing she could just tough out.
“Her vision of where she wanted to be, it was really upended.”
Trusting in God
Alison’s doctors said her surgery was a success. They project that she could return to the basketball court Dec. 15.
“But I’m hoping I can shave a little time off of that,” she confidently said.
Five days after surgery, Alison surprised Lund and her Heat teammates by showing up to a tournament in a wheelchair.
Did that surprise Lund?
“No,” Lund said. “That’s her personality.”
Since surgery, Alison hasn’t missed a practice or tournament, including one to Cincinnati.
“The team means a lot to her,” Lund said. “She’s just as dedicated, just in a different role.”
Bill said he’s noticed a more upbeat attitude from his daughter, which was welcomed news.
“You think, ‘Woe is me,’ and you’re on an island. But then you realize there’s a huge fraternity out there, and to have someone of (Gibson’s) stature say that and help her get through that was pretty cool,” Bill said. “That initial thought of, ‘I’ll never come back to what I was…’ Well, Kyle did, and he’s excelling.
“Those type of things are important. She’ll use that moving forward.”
On June 9, on Twitter, Alison posted Philippians 4:6: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
Alison doesn’t know God's plans for her, but she often prays for peace.
“There’s definitely a reason why this happened,” Alison said. “Something is going on.”
Photo Credit: Alison Hinck