Jama Bin-Edward was expected to have surgery done on her torn ACL in March, then the pandemic hit and changed her plans
Ryerson women’s basketball guard Jama Bin-Edward was basically unstoppable in her return to her hometown of Waterloo. She had 21 points in the first half alone and was playing her best basketball yet — then it happened. It was a play Bin-Edward had probably successfully executed at least a dozen times in her career. She jumped and caught a cross-court pass. But this time, her foot slipped and she hit the floor hard.
“I can’t even explain what was going through my mind,” said Bin-Edward, recalling that day in January, 2020. “I fell and felt something in my knee, and I thought I dislocated my knee. I looked down and my knee looked straight but the inside didn’t feel straight.”
The next day, an appointment was booked with Cleveland Clinic — a medical centre partnered with Ryerson Athletics — to find out the extent of her knee injury. This was nothing new to Bin-Edward, who had suffered a few injuries in her three years at Ryerson. In her second season, she sprained her knee and was dealing with a quadricep injury weeks leading up to when Ryerson was set to host the U Sports Final 8 tournament in 2019. A couple of months into her third year, she sprained her knee again two games into the season, which led to her missing a game.
Before receiving a full diagnosis on her current injury, her doctor would ask Bin-Edward if she ever tore her ACL or knew a teammate who did. As soon as the doctor posed that question, Bin-Edward knew where the conversation was headed. She tore her ACL and would also find out that she had two other knee injuries, sustained previously. The recovery time was estimated at eight to 12 months. But that changed very soon.
“It was so shitty that I start to play really well and start to get in the groove of things and something like this happens. This could’ve been a year for me that could’ve been super great, but it ended like that.”
Bin-Edward remembers struggling to walk in those first few weeks while on crutches. Her injury was a gut punch for Ryerson women’s basketball head coach Carly Clarke, who knew how well her star forward was playing and how vital she was to the team.
“In the moment she went down, I knew what it was,” said Clarke. “Even though we weren’t officially told, you just knew because you see enough of them. I felt just sick to my stomach for her. She had really started to hit her stride, the team was jelling and she was just so fun to watch.”
Originally, the plan was to wait about six weeks for Bin-Edward’s other two knee injuries to heal on their own before having a full surgery done on her ACL. After waiting the six weeks, Bin-Edward went in for a checkup but her doctor determined that while one sprain was fully healed, the other wasn’t. So they decided to push her surgery date another six weeks.
During all of this, Bin-Edward was still around the team in practice sessions and during games on the bench, as Ryerson stunned opponents across the province and country, defeating the No. 2 ranked Ottawa Gee-Gees en route to qualifying for the U Sports Final 8 tournament for the second straight year.
Bin-Edward can recall moments through Ryerson’s incredible post-season run, where she eagerly asked her doctor if there was any possibility of her playing on a torn ACL. It’s been done before by athletes and she was ready to go, desperately wanting to help her team.
“If the doctor had given me the go, I would’ve 100 per cent played,” said Bin-Edward. “I was running and, in my mind, I could play basketball. I wouldn’t have been scared. The problem was fear of damaging my entire knee. I could actually play, but if I fell or if someone hit me and I fell the wrong way, I would blow my knee.”
Despite her eagerness to get back on the court, Bin-Edward would still play a vital role for Ryerson, providing a much-needed source of energy on the sidelines. So she tried to concentrate her efforts on what she could control.
“She showed up every day with the best attitude,” says Clarke. “Her presence was felt and still is felt even if she’s not playing. She was still a huge part of what we’re doing.”
Bin-Edward wasn’t alone on the sidelines though. She was accompanied by newest Rams guard Kyia Giles, who transferred to Ryerson after spending three years at the University of Regina, and who was red-shirting for the season.
The two had built a close bond earlier in the season, being enrolled in the same major of political science, but got even closer after Bin-Edward’s injury. Giles was also recovering from a torn ACL, which she suffered in March 2019. Since then, it’s become a natural reflex for her to grab her own knee whenever she witnesses someone else fall to injury.
Their path to recovery allowed for them to share personal struggles that only they could relate to. “Her hurting herself, unfortunately, did make our bond a lot stronger because we were out together,” says Giles. “We’re both on the sidelines now, and we became buddies on the bench. We’re sitting (out) so we have to make that as fun as possible for ourselves.”
After the season ended, Bin-Edward’s surgery was expected to take place. But before she could even come in for another checkup, the pandemic hit and everything closed down. Plans of surgery were put on the back burner. “At the beginning, when the surgery date wasn’t in sight I was like, ‘OK is this going to hurt my progress or delay me or whatnot, I didn’t want that to happen,’” said Bin-Edward.
It wasn’t until the end of August — six months after her initial injury — when Bin-Edward was able to get the surgery done successfully on her knee.
Despite the recovery process taking longer than expected, COVID-19 turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Bin-Edward, as it’s given her ample time to heal her knee and not rush a return to the court since everyone else is also away from the game.
Now almost six months since her surgery, Bin-Edward continues to rehabilitate her knee. She is doing therapy over Zoom and has now been cleared to jog. She hopes to get back the cardio and stamina she once had that made her one of the most feared defenders in the country.
Bin-Edward’s current plan is to make a full recovery by June, so she can begin scrimmaging a couple of months before the team is expected to start training camp in late August, if the pandemic allows for it.
To make up for her time away from the court, Bin-Edward has watched back every single one of her games at Ryerson, which spans over three years. She’s even rewatched some games from her most recent season multiple times.
What’s been key for Bin-Edward throughout her rehab is just taking things day-by-day and trying to get better at the little things. Whether that’s walking without crutches two weeks after her surgery or being able to finally bend her knee, or jump, it’s a win for her.
“You can only control what you can control. If you keep dwelling about things you can’t control, you’re going to be sad for a long time, because you have no say,” said Bin-Edward.
“Just try to get better at something every single day. Doesn’t matter how small it is or how big. For me, it helped my mental health being able to say I got better at something today.”