On the rebound

Gemma Bullard comes back from another serious injury

Women’s basketball forward Gemma Bullard has recovered from four different major health concerns during her five years at Queen’s.
Women’s basketball forward Gemma Bullard has recovered from four different major health concerns during her five years at Queen’s.

As Gemma Bullard’s head hit the floor during a pre-season game in October, she knew she’d suffered another serious injury.

There had already been a concussion in her first year that knocked the women’s basketball forward out of six games; a torn ACL in training camp that ended her next season before it even began; and the meniscus tear that wiped out the second half of her third season.

This concussion was her fourth major ailment in five years with the Gaels. She faced the prospect of missing much of her final university season.

“It’s very hard not to be, ‘are you kidding me? Is this a joke?’” Bullard said. “You just have to stay positive. Fortunately, a lot of people came and saw me, and it keeps you a little bit busier. When you sleep for 16 hours a day, you can get kind of bored.”

The injury kept her out of the lineup for the Gaels’ first nine games this season, before she returned against the York Lions on Jan. 17.

Thanks to her laundry list of injuries, Bullard has played just 53 of a possible 101 games since she joined the Gaels. The worst was the torn ACL she suffered at the outset of her second year.

Missing the game was incredibly frustrating. After conferring with head coach Dave Wilson, Bullard decided to take some time away from basketball entirely.

“I had a conversation with Dave and said, ‘it’s really depressing going to practice every day and being on crutches,’” she said. “I kind of focused on school that whole year.”

Bullard rebounded strong in 2013-14, coming back after injuring her knee one more time. She took the court in 19 of 22 games — a reasonably healthy campaign by anyone’s standards.

She was playing through a torn rotator cuff.

“I am one of those people that will do absolutely anything to win,” she said. “If you told me ‘you have to break your arm to win the national championship’, sign me up.”

2013-14 proved to be a banner year. Bullard and the Gaels reeled off nine straight wins to end the season, claiming the OUA East title and a berth in the CIS national championships. Bullard was named an OUA Second-Team All-Star after averaging 11.4 points per game.

In addition to the All-Star nod, Bullard received the CIS Tracy MacLeod Award, presented annually to a women’s basketball player for showing perseverance and determination.

It was an honour that brought her to tears.

“It’s not something that everyone mentions. It’s like ‘you got hurt, I’m really sorry to hear that,’” she said. “Then you come back and have a great season, people kind of forget what you had to go through and they focus on the positives.”

The biggest positive of last year, she said, was the Gaels’ overtime victory over the Carleton Ravens in the OUA East final — played at the ARC, in front of the team’s family and friends.

The championship had been a long time coming for the Gaels’ veteran core. Thanks largely to injuries, Bullard, guard Liz Boag and wing Jenny Wright had never reached the pinnacle of the OUA before.

The title run put the Gaels under increased pressure to win. Bullard said the heightened expectations made her time on the sidelines this season even more frustrating.

Now back in the lineup, she’s playing limited minutes as she deals with shin splints, and has averaged 5.2 points in six appearances. Queen’s sits seventh in the OUA with a 9-6 record; they’re 3-3 when Bullard has suited up.

Bullard will play her final regular season game at the ARC this Saturday, when the Gaels host the Ottawa Gee-Gees. It promises to be an emotional affair.

“I don’t know what Dave’s speech is going to be like, but it will definitely be a very sad day for a lot of people,” she said.

“Standing up there with Jenny and Liz — we’ve been through a lot together, going from first-round playoff losses back-to-back years and all this stuff. I’m hoping for all three of us that we can bring the team up and have a run at the end of the season, because they definitely deserve it.”

With Bullard’s roller-coaster ride with the Gaels coming to an end, it will be the intangibles she brought to the team that will persist after she graduates, according to her coach.

“She’s been the mentor to a number of other players on the team, [and a] great help to the coaching staff in terms of her knowledge and insights to the game,” Wilson said.

“She’s helped bring a winning attitude and a winning commitment to our program.”

Gemma Bullard’s injury timeline

Age 13: Torn ACL

Bullard’s first major injury. She reinjured the knee in her second and third years at Queen’s.

2010-11: Concussion

In her third regular season game as a Gael, Bullard suffered a concussion in her hometown of Guelph, Ont. She had planned on attending her high school commencement that night, but headed to the hospital instead. She missed six games.

2011-12: Torn ACL

Bullard lost her entire season thanks to a training camp injury to the same knee she had surgically repaired several years earlier. She focused on schoolwork during the six-month recovery period.

2012-13: Torn meniscus

Bullard found out she’d suffered this injury mid-season in January 2013, requiring her third knee surgery. The injury shut her down for the second half of the year. The Gaels had been 6-6 with her in the lineup, but won just once in eight games after she went down.

2013-14: Torn rotator cuff

Bullard missed three games throughout the year, in part due to a bout with mononucleosis. She played through the shoulder injury, but underwent surgery to be ready for the 2014-15 pre-season.

2014-15: Concussion

After hitting her head on the floor while taking a charge in a pre-season game against the UBC Thunderbirds, Bullard missed the first nine games of the regular season. She has battled shin splints since returning to the lineup last month.

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