Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

3:33 Sports Short #27 // Loop Recovery by Michael Nye

I said basketball, and the technician just laughed. He looked up from selecting the appropriate cast to wrap around my right ankle.

“Let me guess,” he said. “Shooting a layup.”

Here’s what happened: a jump shot had gone up strong side; I had been standing at the free throw line. The shot bricked, ricocheted high, and the rebound was batted in the air like a balloon, once, twice, then tapped to the corner. I turned to race after it. One player made a last leap for the ball, missed it, and landed directly on the back of my ankle. His weight anchored me, and his weight and force ruptured my Achilles.

The technician shook his head. “That’s crazy. I’ve never heard one like that.”

The paper underneath me crinkled as I shifted on the examination table. It occurred to me that if the guy was an inch or two to the other side of my leg, we probably just tangle up, crash, and my Achilles remains intact.

The recovery from Achilles surgery was long: horrific pain, a cast and crutches, a walking boot, heel lifts, physical therapy. It was six months before I could run, nine months before I played basketball again.

Yet this is what is most vivid. It’s July. I am home alone. I swing my legs out of bed, the walking boot holding my lower leg in place, the blue bulge of the air pump that tightens the boot sticking out like a wart. Without crutches, I walk gingerly out of the bedroom to the top of the stairs, anticipating pain that never occurred. Five steps down to the main floor, and I sit on the stairs. I deflate the cast, the pressure around my calf and ankle whooshing away. I yank loose the Velcro straps holding the cast in place, pull my leg out from the walking boot, and set my foot on the floor.

Arms out and palms flat, I lean out on my left leg and push myself up and for the first time in eight weeks, I stand on my feet. The hairs on my right leg are sweaty and matted, my calf muscle withered to half its normal size. I wiggle my toes on the wood floor, then bent my knees, just a little, concentrating on the tug on the surgically repaired tendon. With shallow breaths, I stand and pivot. Step into my kitchen, plant my right foot slow and firm. I circle this level of my house—kitchen, dining room, living room; kitchen, dining room, living room—every hobbled, lurching step better than the previous one. And this is how I recover, a grinning idiot walking in endless circles.

Michael Nye's debut short story collection is STRATEGIES AGAINST EXTINCTION. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Boulevard, Cincinnati Review, Crab Orchard Review, Epoch, Hobart, Kenyon Review, and the Normal School, among many others. He lives in Washington, D.C.