Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Teen dribbles around load of misfortune

Avid hoopster plays on prosthesis

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Carolyn WONNECK tested her new leg for the first time in a basketball game Wednesday night with the her high school team.

But that was the easy part for the Grade 12 forward with defending provincial girls' AAAA basketball champion Vincent Massey Trojans.

Wonneck, a 17-year-old honours student, has already overcome tougher tests to her courage and spirit after she had her right leg amputated below the knee last summer.

"It's awesome to be back out there. I love basketball and I love running, so there was no way I was going to let that go," said the 5-foot-10 Wonneck, who scored a basket and hauled in a couple of rebounds in an 82-28 win over John Taylor Pipers.

"From the get-go, I wasn't going to let it hold me back. I'm not the kind of person to just give up. It's a struggle, but whatever."

Wonneck broke both legs and her right wrist on July 21, 2009 in a fall from a climbing wall at a summer camp where she was working as a counsellor. The safety harness, which was not attached properly, gave out and she fell 30 feet (nine metres) to the ground. A circulation problem developed in her right leg, gangrene set in and amputation became necessary.

"It was extremely hard and I cried a lot, but I leaned on my faith, my family, my friends and I have gotten just an incredible amount of support," said Wonneck, the youngest child of Ron and Beth Wonneck and sister to Paul, 18, also a basketball player.

She said the pain was "unfathomable," so she only began to comprehend what had happened to her when she was able to have less pain medication and a clearer head.

"Then I realized, 'Holy crap, I don't have a leg anymore' and you kind of just freak out a bit, or a lot," she said. "It's really hard to lose a leg, especially when I ran the half-marathon last year, we won the provincial championship in basketball and I'm just a very active person."

She said she got a lot of reassurance from her physiotherapists about her recovery and her future and she had upwards of 20 visitors a day in the three weeks she spent in Children's Hospital.

"I was Miss Popularity there, that's for sure, and I'm so grateful. It was incredible. The walls of my room were covered in cards and there were thousands of people praying for me. That definitely helped me through it," she said. "I also sing, so I worked with the music therapist and singing really helped get me through it. That, my faith, and my family."

Trojans basketball coach Stacy Hawash said that when she visited Wonneck in hospital, she asked to be the team's manager if she couldn't play.

"I just told her, 'You can do whatever you want,' " said Hawash, formerly Stacy Yuel, who played five years for the University of Manitoba Bisons women's basketball team. "Carolyn is a very amazing and special girl who will not be limited in any way. I'm so proud of her and we're all so excited to have her back as a member of the basketball team."

Hawash had some first-hand knowledge about playing basketball with a prosthetic leg.

Hawash played against Tracy MacLeod, a player with the Brandon Bobcats from 1992-94, who had her leg amputated in 1993 after a severe infection following a broken leg. MacLeod returned to basketball a few months later and played wearing a prosthesis at the university level.

Hawash said she was able to show Wonneck the newspaper articles about MacLeod to help inspire her and is trying to reach MacLeod so the two can speak.

Wonneck, who skipped a grade in elementary school, has a 96 per cent average and will graduate a year ahead of her age group. She represented Vincent Massey at a UNESCO international conference in New York last November. She and her family are going to Mexico for a vacation next week and she made a couple of special preparations. Her new leg looks tanned and she painted the toenails.

"I chose a shade darker so it will match the tan I hope to get," she said.

"I don't know if there is a reason this happened; there must be. I just have to smile, do my thing, see where that takes me."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 11, 2010 C6

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