In October, Baylor Bears guard DiDi Richards suffered an injury that left her with no feeling from the hips down. Just five months later, she helped lead her team to the NCAA Elite Eight tournament.

By Arielle Tschinkel
March 30, 2021
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With a controversial call by refs during last night's Elite Eight game, the UConn Huskies knocked the Baylor Bears out of March Madness, ending their chances at reaching the Final Four in the annual college basketball two-week extravaganza. It was a shocking upset — but the story behind one Bears player's incredible comeback to the court before their defeat remains incredibly inspiring.

Back in October 2020 during a practice scrimmage, Bears guard DiDi Richards and teammate Moon Ursin accidentally collided when attempting to grab the ball, striking each other at full speed and full force mid-jump. The collision knocked both players to the ground, leaving Richards "motionless" and "unconscious," Alex Olson, the university's director of athletic training, said in a video interview shared on the Baylor Bears Twitter page.

Head coach Kim Mulkey added, "I knew the collision was bad because I heard it, but I don't think any of us in that gym realized what it did to DiDi."

Richards ultimately suffered injuries to her spinal cord that temporarily paralyzed her from the hips down, according to ESPN. (Related: How I Recovered from Two ACL Tears and Came Back Stronger Than Ever)

Olson said that doctors described Richards' injury as a "shock" to her central nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cord. While her brain recovered "really quickly," explained Olson, her spinal cord took much longer to heal properly, leaving her with temporary paralysis from the hips down.

Richards then began months of rehabilitation to regain movement and strength in her lower body, sharing that she "refused to believe [she] was never going to walk again." In fact, Mulkey said that Richards began her road to recovery by showing up to practice just two days after her injury, using a walker in her Bears uniform. Within a month, she was in the gym shooting jump shots. (Related: My Neck Injury Was the Self-Care Wake-Up Call I Didn't Know I Needed)

Along with determination, Richards relied on a more unconventional healing tactic: humor. "Whenever I would hear [or] feel any type of negativity, I would crack a joke on myself," she shared. "I kind of had to stay high-spirited to protect my faith or protect myself because I was sad that my legs weren't working; I was sad I couldn't play. There was no other option but to stay high-spirited."

By December — less than two months after an injury that not only threatened to sideline her basketball career but that also could have prevented her from ever walking again — Richards' medical team cleared her to begin playing again, according to ESPN. (Related: How Victoria Arlen Willed Herself Out of Paralysis to Become a Paralympian)

Baylor may be out of the NCAA women's basketball tournament, but Richards' story proves that resilience, strength, hard work, and even a little humor can go a long way in the face of even the most insurmountable obstacles. As Olson put it of his player's remarkable success story: "She's one of the hardest workers that I've ever seen come through this program. You've gotta have determination — that's DiDi Richards. You've gotta have energy. She's an Energizer Bunny. But even more than that, I think deep down she just has a sense of optimism and perseverance that is undeniable."

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