Botruff overcomes devastating injury, shines

GVSU forward knocks down key 3-pointer in win at NMU

By Bryce Derouin | 1/21/15 10:42pm

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#13 Jammie Botruff

by GVL / Emily Frye / The Lanthorn

Originally published by the Daily Press

Jammie Botruff emerges from the Grand Valley State University locker room wearing a gray GVSU T-shirt and black sweats. She is embraced by her friends and family who made the 58-mile trip to Marquette to watch Gladstone's all-time leading scorer.

Botruff takes turns hugging loved ones and snapping photos in various poses with her girlfriends. She is all smiles and has many reasons to be happy. The junior just played a key role down the stretch in GVSU's 68-61 victory over Northern Michigan University, Thursday -- securing two defensive rebounds in the final four minutes and knocking down the go-ahead 3-pointer that gave GVSU a lead it would not relinquish.

Courtesy / Bryce Derouin

Grand Valley State University’s Jammie Botruff lays it up while Northern Michigan University’s Courtney Lemon, defends, Thursday (Courtesy / Bryce Derouin)

Botruff was inserted into the starting lineup four games ago. In those four games where Botruff has started, GVSU is 3-1. But just over a year ago, celebrating a GVSU victory with the people closest to her was the furthest thing from her mind. Instead of worrying about what photo of her friends she would post on Instagram to commemorate one of the brightest moments of her collegiate career, her mind was racing and dealing with the idea that she would never step foot on a basketball court, again.

"They said I would probably never play again,” she said.

The troubles started during her freshman year when it was discovered that Botruff had three stress fractures in her foot. She was forced to wear a boot for six months, before eventually having to get right knee surgery to repair the cartilage that was torn in the back of the kneecap. Her kneecap began shattering and cracking. The doctors then took out the torn cartilage, leaving her knees to rub bone against bone.

When she came back, she was having setbacks with swelling and other ailments inside the knee. The pain forced her to have a sit-down with the GVSU training staff and head coach Janel Burgess. That's when the bad news was first delivered to her.

"Last year, right before Christmas break, we were going to the University of Indianapolis and we were at practice and we were going to eat after, and pretty much Coach Burgess and our trainer told the team and myself that -- no one told me this during surgery -- but when they said surgery wasn't successful, they said I would probably never play again."

Botruff did what any collegiate athlete would do when they're told they can no longer play the game that's engulfed many hours of their lives; she cried. She went home for Christmas break and for three days agonized at the idea of never being able to play the sport that brought her immense joy in her life.

"First I cried. Then I didn't know what I was going to do," Botruff said. "Basketball was the only thing I've ever known. I loved playing it. It's all I ever did; I would spend hours on end in the gym.

"They started talking to me and asking questions about what I wanted to do with my kids in the future; because these (knees) are what you have to walk on for the rest of your life. It really hit me hard. I feel like I've grown a lot in that there is more in life than basketball, but my heart is still set on it."

Road to recovery

Once the tears dried, Botruff's competitive instincts kicked in. She went and saw the same physical therapist who treated her injuries since she was in the eighth grade -- Dan Howes of Northwoods Rehabilitation.

"I said, 'Hey I had surgery, they don't think I will play again, what do you think I should do?'" Botruff said about her first conversation with Howes. "He said, 'Lets get on the treadmill.'"

Stubbornly, Botruff tried to return just 10-12 weeks after having surgery, but due to the early return, she had a setback. As a result, she spent the beginning of March until September rehabbing and strengthening her knee. Botruff worked with Joe Tofferi, who is the strength and conditioning coach and also works out of iMove in Grand Haven.

Tofferi first began opening up and loosening Botruff’s hips and ankles in an attempt to relieve all the pressure that was being forced upon her knees. Then, he had Botruff run on an anti-gravity Alter-G treadmill to regain her cardio. Now, her focus is just trying to limit the amount of swelling that pops up from time to time.

"If it wasn’t for him taking a chance on me, I would never be where I am today,” Botruff said about Tofferi. “It was definitely a slow process, but I had the mentality that it would be a marathon. I kept trying to do a couple sprints and I would have relapses. But when it got to the heart of it, I knew it would be a marathon for me to get back."

For the love of the game

With her injuries behind her, Botruff has finally been able to focus on basketball. Since December, she's been at her healthiest point of her GVSU career and it has showed. Against Wayne State, she scored a then career-high 13 points and grabbed five rebounds in an 89-63 GVSU loss. Two games later, she made her first-career start in a 72-66 win against Walsh University and responded by recording seven points, six rebounds, three steals, two assists and a block. In the following game against Malone University, she tallied another career-high, scoring 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting during a 85-60 victory.

"I just think she's the definition of a blue-collar hardworking woman who has had to fight through adversity and is now playing how I knew she would play as long as she was healthy," Burgess said about Botruff. "It's taken her a lot of hard work to get there. She's just relentless and so, so fun to coach."

On Thursday, Botruff's blue-collar mentality was on full display. She defended and forced NMU's 6-foot-3 center Courtney Lemon into misses, took a charge and hit a cold-blooded 3-pointer to give GVSU a 61-58 lead with 3:50 left in the game. She finished with 9 points on 3-of-6 shooting, but even points and wins can't equal the satisfaction Botruff gets from just being on the court.

"It feels awesome. I'm finally feeling healthy," Botruff said. "Coach (Burgess) loves my effort and my rebounding and just being able to stick shots. I'm feeling a lot more confident -- even attacking the hoop. It just feels great to be out there."

As she continues to make an impact on the court for GVSU, the bones in her right knee will continue to rub against one another. At this point, her knee won't get any better, but it won't get any worse, either. Botruff will have one last surgery after her senior season is over, where she will have new cartilage installed, a microfracture and a rod in her patella to keep the kneecap in place. Eventually, her days on the basketball court will be over once she hands in her GVSU jersey and goes under the knife, one last time.

There are questions about how the final surgery will affect her post-basketball life; if she'll be able to move around and play with her future children as they grow up. But right now, she's not concerned about those questions. Right now, she's just worried about helping her team compete for a GLIAC championship and playing the game she loves, while she still can. 

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