06 - 09
February 2020
10 Breanna Stewart (USA)
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Stewart climbing back up the mountain towards Tokyo

BELGRADE (Serbia) - The higher you are, the further you fall is something Breanna Stewart can relate to as she claws her way back from the despair of her Achilles injury towards the excitement of another Olympic adventure.

On that fateful night during the EuroLeague Women Final Four 2019 when she felt the anguish of a sudden and searing pain, Stewart could barely have been condemned to eight months on the sidelines from a higher peak.

Her already glittering career had only just scaled new heights with deserved MVP accolades in the WNBA and at the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup. Her performances had further cemented her status as one of the most famous and revered players in the global game.


But stopped suddenly in her tracks, none of that mattered as she was forced to confront what has arguably been the biggest challenge of her career to date.

"When I got hurt, I went from my highest high to my lowest low," confessed Stewart.

"There were a lot of different emotions because everything that year had been going really great. Then suddenly I just got hit with this reality.

"At the beginning of the recovery it was very tough for me, because you realize that you are very limited in what you can do. But then every day is a little bit better and then every week you feel like it is improving. You just have to have positive people around you."

She added: "The toughest thing for me was having to watch my team play and not being able to help them. It was almost the case that it was actually easier whenever I was away from basketball in general."

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The adjustments required were non-negotiable. Not being able to get on the hardwood and do what comes naturally was tough, with Stewart honest enough to admit it was a roller-coaster of epic proportions.

Occasionally she doubted and feared whether she could recapture what had been an amazingly high gear, prior to her fall; and yet also witnessed just enough positive flashes of light and encouragement to keep the faith that all would be good in the end.

She explained: "I think the biggest thing I could do was to work hard. It is the only way of getting back. With an Achilles, it is a hard injury and leaves you questioning if you will ever get back to the way that you were before.

"But as I got further into the recovery process, I saw glimpses of myself. Even now that I am back playing again, I am also seeing those glimpses of where I was at and it is motivating for me."

Post-surgery, Stewart had time on her hands and it meant for the first time in what seemed like ever, she had a blank calendar. The rarest of things for any female basketball player. It also meant opportunities and ironically, the forward ended up landing in the Serbian capital well before the FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournament.

"I was always out there focusing on my rehab and working out, it just meant I had to enjoy my summer in a different way," mused Stewart.

"For example, I have an August birthday, so I was actually able to go on a vacation in the middle of the WNBA season. And, I was also here in Belgrade to watch the FIBA Women's EuroBasket and then for the wedding of Sonja (Vasic) when I came back again later.

"I wasn't expecting to now be here for a third time, but I am excited and it is really important, since it was always on my calendar when planning out my rehab.

 "We had those two preparation games recently, but it feels great to get back into the international competitions and obviously to start getting ready for the Olympics. I played in China previously and it was a unique experience, so being able to go back to Asia and now getting to step out in Japan is exciting."

The FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournament is clearly an important milestone on her long climb back up towards the top of a mountain that offers the lure of a second Olympic title.

Stewart is also acutely aware that her role will be a lot different to 2016, when she takes to the court in Tokyo. There is also the added dimension that post 2020, some truly legendary figures in Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi will have bowed out.

"Thinking about my first Olympics in Rio, I learned a lot and it was a big experience," she commented.


"So now, coming back for my second one and having a different role in the team, more of a leadership role and not being one of the 'newbies' should mean it is even more fun.

"I think in some ways it will be considered as Sue and Dee passing on the torch, but it is important to still see playing with them as an amazing opportunity. I get to play with Sue in the WNBA as well, while playing with Dee is always amazing. I am always trying to embrace the moment, but I am also now having to prepare to continue on and to pick up from wherever they leave off."

One thing won't change of course. That is the expectation of USA standing on the top step of the podium. Indeed, nothing else will do.

"The goal is always gold," confirmed Stewart.

"This year it will be interesting because we have been bringing in a lot more new people and we have to make sure we get everyone on the same page which isn't always easy.

"Over the past four years, we all feel the level of competition has increased and we're expecting a tough road from this point out. We understand that we have a target on our backs and everyone wants to beat us, but we will be ready and waiting for that - especially when we are in Tokyo," she concluded.