Tying it together

Mike Shoveller recalls road to recovery from ACL tear

Mike Shoveller is third in the OUA this season in blocks with 32.
Mike Shoveller is third in the OUA this season in blocks with 32. 

It was August of 2016 — in the thick of his fourth training camp — when Mike Shoveller hit the deck hard. As his 6’11 frame thumped against the hardwood of the ARC, Shoveller let out a sharp scream that echoed throughout the gym.  

He knew something was wrong. 

“I kind of just blacked out,” Shoveller told The Journal. He noted his memory of the fall was hazy and immediate specifics were lost in the shuffle of the moment. 

“I was in shock.” 

Shoveller said everything leading to his fall was routine — he’d played one-on-one basketball thousands of times. Dribbling from half court, he made a move and planted his foot to shift his angle toward the basket. 

“[A]nd then I heard it,” Shoveller recalled, mimicking a pop sound with a snap of his fingers. 

What he knew first hand was that he’d buckled his knee and experienced an abnormal sensation of pain. Unknown to himself or those around him at the time was that he’d suffered considerable damage to his anterior crucial ligament (ACL). 

Teammates and trainers helped prop him up, but Shoveller — who was cautiously hopeful — managed to walk off on his own weight. The idea of a heavy injury — and the weeks or months of recovery that would likely ensue — lingered in Shoveller’s mind. 

“It was a tough pill to swallow,” Shoveller said of facing what seemed like an inevitable reality. “I walked off [the court] thinking, ‘O.K., I can put a little weight on [my knee] … it’s not as bad as I think.’” 

In the trainer’s room, Shoveller received good news — or news that on its surface appeared good. The doctor characterized his injury as a sprained ACL. He was told it would take two weeks to recover.  

But as stability in his knee continued to deteriorate, so too did his optimism wane and waver.

“I’d rehab for two-weeks, come back for a practice, hurt it again, and then do the same,” Shoveller said, explaining his recovery mirrored a recurrent trend. Slight progress was met by a series of dead-ends. Shoveller was crippled by a sense of false hope. 

“It was [a] mental thing,” Shoveller said. He said for every two week interval his knee was reassessed by Queen’s doctors, early expectations of a swift return to the court dwindled. “It was like, ‘I’ll be back [and] if I’m not back for the start of the season, then I’ll be back by Christmas.’”

Shoveller had two appointments booked in the fall of 2016, both scheduled for the same day — one in the morning, another in the afternoon. A meeting with an orthopedic specialist followed by an MRI exam  confirmed what he feared was already true.  

“I kept having to push my expectations back a little bit because I knew,” Shoveller said of his feelings prior to meeting with his orthopedic specialist.  “I just could feel something wasn’t right.”

Shoveller remembered that the specialist was direct. He asked him what happened and whether he could describe the first semblance of pain in his knee. 

“Like a pop or a clock,” Shoveller told him. He recalled the specialist instructing him to relax and lay flat on his back for a pivot shift examination, an orthopedic procedure which tests for stability of the knee.   

“’Did it feel like this—’” Shoveller recalled the specialist asking, his knee fully extended and his hip flexed, “—and I immediately thought, ‘That’s exactly what it felt like.’” 

Despite going to the MRI exam, the specialist already confirmed the worst. Shoveller had a torn ACL.  

“He said, ‘Your season’s done … You need to start figuring out your next step.’ And I was kind of, like, in shock.” 

Prior to his injury, Shoveller was playing some of the best basketball of his post-secondary career. He started 16 of the Gaels’ 19 games in 2015-16 and in the process garnered more trust from his coaches. 

“I felt like I kind of figured out how to use my skillset and physical attributes to my advantage,” he said.

Men’s basketball head coach Steph Barrie recalled being encouraged by Shoveller’s development over his three years with the program. As a player who came in with a lot of potential, Barrie said the coaching staff “started to see what we knew he was capable of but hadn’t shown up to that point.” 

“He was, if not our best player, one of our two best players,” Barrie said of his optimism regarding Shoveller’s senior season. “We knew [it] was gonna be a big year for him.” 

Barrie lamented the timing of the injury, adding that Shoveller “was just starting to get to the point that he worked for.” 

But despite the timing of his ACL tear — and the uncertainty surrounding its proper diagnosis — Shoveller kept his optimism riding a high. Recovery for his Nov. 25 knee operation was set at 6 to 12 months. He only cared about one number. 

“I’m thinking six,” Shoveller recalled, “that was the only thing on my mind.” 

The rehabilitation process was strenuous. And there were tough days, Shoveller said, but he “didn’t have any time to feel sorry for myself.” 

“It’s not gonna help me,” he added, “it’s not gonna help my team, so I kind of jumped into the mindset of, ‘How can I still help?’”

Shoveller found solace in a bench role alongside Barrie and assistant coach Jermaine Smalls, acting as a player-mentor to his teammates. It was a silver lining to his injury he hadn’t realized — to develop his game off the court.  

More than a year removed from his surgery, there’s a sense of easiness to Shoveller. 

He looked cool and calm sitting in the ARC’s alumni lounge earlier this week. But perhaps that’s just a case of his being in a groove where he feels most comfortable — on the court. 

And labelling it a groove may be selling his play short. Shoveller has posted 12.7 points and 7.3 rebounds per game this season, all the while stroking it at 59 per cent from the field and 45 per cent from beyond the arc. 

“This is the same game I’ve been playing since I was seven years old,” the fifth-year centre said. “It’s just about confidence.” 

The only difficult part of returning from injury is knowing what hard work really mean — and if anybody knows, it’s Mike Shoveller. 

“I was pretty worried when I got hurt that it’d be hard — and it was hard — but it showed me what hard work really is.”

 

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.