It was not a version of the alphabet Janet McLachlan wanted to hear — ACL, MCL, PCL, all abbreviations for ligaments in the knee, all shredded.
Then came news of the serious damage to the meniscus, cartilage and the compression fracture at the top of the tibia.
That happens when your leg folds the wrong way.
McLachlan was playing rugby for the Edmonton Rockers in the Alberta division one provincial final when a teammate and an opponent fell together on the side of her leg. Her hopes of playing for the Canadian national team were also shattered in that painful pile up almost a decade ago.
Doctors told her she could no longer play any sport that put any stress or torque on the knee.
For a woman who had grown up in an athletic family — her mom was Canadian over-65 tennis champ and her dad a university football star drafted to the CFL — it was devastating.
Then a friend introduced her to wheelchair basketball. McLachlan, a Vancouver native, had already been a star on a University of Victoria Vikes hoops team that won national championships in 1998 and 2000, so the transition would be a breeze right?
“I felt a little embarrassed actually,” she recalls of that first day on the court. “I couldn’t even shoot a foul shot and all of a sudden everything felt so uncomfortable.
“It didn’t take too long once you figured out the power had to come from somewhere other than your legs. Just like when you start able-bodied basketball, you start with layups and shots close to the hoop. You don’t try to shoot three-pointers on the first day. I had to suck up my ego enough to start back at the beginning again.”
Two years later, she was on the national team and playing at the Beijing Paralympics in 2008. She was also at the London Games in 2012. Those teams finished fifth and sixth respectively. In London, McLachlan led all players in scoring and rebounds.
While Canada struggled at those two Paralympics, the 37-year-old was also part of a resurgence that saw the team win the 2014 world championship here in Toronto. McLachlan was the second-highest scorer in the tournament and was named an all-star. A win here at the Parapan Am Games means an automatic ticket to Rio and the Paralympics there in 2016.
McLachlan is classified as a 4.5 player, the highest level of physical functionality in wheelchair basketball. The lowest level, such as full paraplegia below the chest, is a 1.0.
Those players have no trunk control and cannot bend forward or sideways or rotate to catch and pass the ball. To keep things balanced, the five players a team has on the court at one time cannot have classifications that add up to more than 14.
Having played both stand-up and wheelchair basketball at very high levels, McLachlan understands how impactful the chairs are in altering the tactics of a game that, otherwise, appears quite similar.
“In wheelchair basketball, you can prevent someone from going where they want to go on the court,” she explains. “You can physically use your chair to get chair contact and stop that player from either playing offence or defence.
“That changes the game dramatically. It means that in order to get your best offensive players into the offensive end, you need to work together. Wheelchair basketball is more of a team game because of that.”
And, as a team, the Canadians will be working hard to get the high-scoring McLachlan down the court and in position to put up points.
“We all share responsibilities,” she says. “I happen to be tall in my chair and I happen to be a good shooter so that is my role. I wouldn’t want to think of myself as just a scorer but it is a big part of my role — being a threat so the other team has to guard me and that creates opportunities for others.”