Sports

Abbotsford's MacLeod overcomes the odds to enter Cascades Hall of Fame

Tracy MacLeod had her right leg amputated following a freak basketball injury, but continued to suit up in Brandon. - Courtesy Brandon University Athletics
Tracy MacLeod had her right leg amputated following a freak basketball injury, but continued to suit up in Brandon.
— image credit: Courtesy Brandon University Athletics

Tracy MacLeod knew she could beat her check.

She locked eyes with her point guard and received the ball in the high post.

One spin move and a lay-up later, and the Brandon University Bobcats had put up another two points on the scoreboard.

But she wasn't ready for the landing.

Falling awkwardly, she landed with a thud. What she initially had thought was a sprained ankle became a lot more serious when she looked down and realized her right foot was facing the wrong way.

Trainers very quickly speculated that MacLeod suffered a fracture, but her life would never be the same again after the fall.

The injury led to surgery after surgery, and her leg never completely recovered. The next time MacLeod would hit the court in a university-level basketball game would be without that leg, but with a newfound strength and outlook on life.

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Before MacLeod (now Johnson) stepped foot on the court with the Bobcats, she developed her university game in Abbotsford with the then Fraser Valley College Cascades.

She wore the green and white from 1990 to 1992, and led the team to its first BCCAA conference title and a CCAA national silver medal in the 1991-92 season. She was named a first team conference all-star both of her years on campus, and earned a CCAA All-Canadian nod in 1991.

MacLeod averaged 18.8 points per game in the '91-'92 season, and is part of the first group of inductees into the inaugural class of the Cascades Hall of Fame today (Friday) at University of the Fraser Valley (UFV).

"It's really exciting," she said of the induction.

"It's a huge honour and a testament to the hard work I put in as an athlete to train to be the best."

She said she looks back fondly on her time with the Cascades.

"We had that old gym and it was so dark – I'm really jealous of the facility they have now," she said. "But I believe we paved the way for women's sports at UFV. It was always an electric atmosphere, and I'm so excited to go back and see it now."

MacLeod, who now calls Warman, Sask., home, first picked up the game as a Grade 7 player at Abbotsford's W.A. Fraser Elementary.

She developed her game even more at Yale Secondary, earning a spot on the senior girls team as a Grade 10 student. Standing five foot eleven going into Grade 8, and growing into a six-foot-one frame, MacLeod primarily played post.

She said fellow Cascades HOF inductee Pat Lee helped put the finishing touches on her game in Grade 12, when she joined the W.J. Mouat Hawks senior girls basketball team after the Yale senior girls team folded.

MacLeod still remembers the national silver-medal run in 1992.

The re-named University College of the Fraser Valley (UCFV) Cascades won both of their round-robin games (67-54 over Vanier College and 88-45 over Humber College) to advance to the gold-medal game against Montreal's College Ahuntsic.

"It was such an intense final and the crowd was nuts," she said, of the fans at North York's Seneca College. "I remember the place roaring, and us being sad when we lost but we were kind of the underdogs."

UCFV fell 67-55 in the gold game, but MacLeod was named a first team all-tournament player.

After the silver medal, MacLeod followed legendary Canadian basketball coach Shawnee Harley to Brandon.

"She called me up that summer and told me she'd like me to play for her. I jumped at that opportunity," she said.

Later that fall, the injury occurred in the Bobcats' second game of the season.

"There wasn't a lot of pain when I first fell, but I knew something was wrong," she said. "What I thought was my hand hitting the ground was actually the sound of the crack of the bone in my leg."

She didn't return to the court for the rest of that season, and the possibility of amputation came up the following spring.

Her incisions from her many surgeries weren't recovering properly and, then in June, she lost approximately 4,800 cubic centimetres of blood due to her weekly surgeries trying to re-build her right leg.

"Emotionally I was spent," she said. "I couldn't keep doing surgeries every week."

Doctors told MacLeod that the only way for her to return to competitive basketball again would be for amputation. She agonized over the decision for weeks.

"This leg got me a scholarship, this leg was going to put me on the Canadian national team one day, this leg got me here," she said, of her mindset at the time. "Basketball was potentially going to be taken away from me, and when my doctor told me my leg wouldn't be as good as an artificial leg I decided I didn't want it."

Doctors explained that her calf muscle had died, and she would never have the same strength with a new calf muscle put in. MacLeod wanted to play basketball, and the only way to return to the Bobcats would be with an artificial leg.

She played two years with the new leg, battling depression and bitter feelings towards the sport.

"I didn't know how to take the staring at first," she said. "I became very insecure and sheltered. I worried that I was letting everyone down on the court, and it wasn't until I played in a recreational league near the end of my time at Brandon that I got my passion back."

MacLeod said it was a tough choice to amputate, but she has no qualms about her decision.

"I would do the same thing over again," she said. "I totally don't regret what I did; it was the best thing for me. Many people said I couldn't come back, but I didn't want anyone to take basketball away from me."

She graduated from Brandon in 1995, and just two years later the CIS created an award in her honour. The Tracy MacLeod Award rewards determination, perseverance and unwavering spirit.

"It's awesome to have an award named after me," she said. "And it really hit me last year when I was inducted into the Brandon Hall of Fame. A man who had a stroke mentioned me, and talked about how my story helped him draw strength to recover. It was priceless, and that's what it's all about."

MacLeod now works as a teacher and basketball coach in Saskatchewan. She coaches a senior boys high school team and girls provincial teams in the prairie province. She said her parents and some of her family still live in Abbotsford, and they will be inside the Envision Athletic Centre for today's induction.

MacLeod enters the inaugural Cascades Hall of Fame along with the school's former athletic director Jane Antil, men's basketball coach Pat Lee, women's basketball star Carolyne Lucy (now Rollins) and the 1987-88 men's basketball team.

The Hall of Fame will include plaques displayed in the Envision Athletic Centre mezzanine, along with an online component at ufvcascades.ca.

The group is set to be immortalized between the women's and men's games today.

For more on all the inductees, visit ufvcascades.ca.

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