Fifth-year nursing student Brianna Falk has had to battle through multiple major obstacles in her career with the UBC Okanagan Heat women's basketball team, overcoming challenges with injuries and a global pandemic to shine on and off the court.
Losing both the 2019-20 and part of the 2021-22 season due to a serious knee injury, as well as the cancelation of the 2020-21 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has pushed Falk mentally and physically in the way she engages with her sport both as a leader, an athlete, and an individual.
The 5-9 forward noted how her initial injury, an ACL tear, impacted her during the 2019-20 season, as well as what motivated her to push through, saying "right away I was super upset because my little sister had just signed, and I felt like I had let people down. Then my two seniors, Ana Evans and Jordon Korol at the time, I was looking forward to playing with them and I wanted to get them to playoffs and to be a piece of that. So, when I'm training and rehabbing, those are the people that I'm thinking about."
Falk had to initially overcome a torn ACL in the 2019-20 season, then in the first home game of the 2021-22 season, she reinjured her knee, this time a bone fracture which left her with a floating bone fragment in her knee. The Vernon, B.C., product noted the mental and physical drain the rehabilitation process had for her, particularly due to the added loss of the season during the height of the pandemic in between her two major knee injuries.
"With the first injury, I was definitely a little bit bummed. It was kind of like 'ok, I can accept this. What am I going to do so that I can be back on the court?' and I think I was a lot more amped up. Once I finally got to play again, I was super pumped, and I was proud of myself. And then COVID hit, which sucked, because I had worked so hard and could finally be back but I just had to work on my skills. It was definitely a mental toughness of 'you can do it, you're fine'. And then when my third one hit after my first home game back, I was mad because I had worked two years trying to get back into playing and I had finally gotten there, and it was almost like a fluke because the injury I have is so rare."
She continued on to note the mental challenges she had to endure after the reinjury, saying that "I thought I tore my ACL again. It was very draining because when you have a second ACL tear it's kind of like you're done, especially when it's your fifth year, so I think there was a lot of uncertainty and constant worrying which I focused a lot on myself."
Despite the challenging experience of working to overcome both injuries, Falk has been able to create a positive mindset around it, showcasing her incredible character by changing the narrative of her story from tragedy to resilience.
"Now it's changing the mindset; every opportunity and practice, I don't know what will happen, my knee will just randomly lock, so its an opportunity and I should be grateful for the time I've had on the court and with the people I have. Every time I step on the court I have to think 'this could be my last time, I don't know' and I think having that mindset when I go into practice, and being excited to be there because I don't know if it's ever going to be my last time, is kind of eye opening and different to how I saw my other two experiences with injuries and COVID."
Falk went on to explain part of her recovery process, humbly showcasing her incredible strength and drive which allowed her to push through her injuries in order to get back on the court. She noted that "through all of my injuries, I think a lot of it was first of all, getting fitness back. Then skills, basketball-wise, I remember when I first got out of surgery, six days in, I was chair shooting since I wasn't able to stand and fully bend and extend my knee. I would just sit in the chair and practice form shots. It definitely gave me something to work on and push myself in a different aspect of the game."
Her humble and strong character shone through as she described her healing journey, all the while giving credit to those around her who encouraged her along in the process.
"Having that community around me is the biggest part; that I can say 'hey, I've made it and you guys have supported me or seen me throughout my five years'. Especially physiotherapy, Jeff and Kev have been through probably the ugliest points and then the greatest points of my basketball career. Being able to play is, for me, giving back to the people that have been there."
Due to her injuries, Falk has been forced to sit out a large number of games through the past three seasons. Rather than allowing her injury to end her career, Falk has happily taken on a leadership role for her team, sharing her knowledge and experience from the sidelines:
"With this season, it has given me the ability to step in more to the leadership of coaching on the sideline. Bobby Mitchell and Lonny Mazurak both let me sit on the bench even with not being dressed and able to play, so a large factor of my ability to be a leader is talking on the bench now. Everyone on my team knows, when I'm on the court, I'm going to yell at you and now it's like I'm yelling at people still on the court trying to give them advice like 'hey, you're still ok, you're going to be fine.'"
As the lone graduating player from this season's women's basketball squad, the leadership role Falk has taken on goes beyond her role as an experienced player, acting as a mentor to other players by sharing advice for life on and off the court. The biggest lesson she hopes to have shared with her team through her journey of overcoming adversity is as follows:
"What actions you want to put forward to prove not just to yourself but to others as well that you can do it and that it's up to you at the end of the day. You can't look back and play the blame game because it's really hard and super tough mentally as an athlete or anyone in life to do that. If you're looking inwards at yourself being like 'how can I bless people at the end of the day rather than impress them' that's where you'll feel good about yourself and you'll feel like you've done something with your life. That's how I like to live my life and hopefully the girls can see that too."
- written by Seyara Campbell