Like a lot of high school student-athletes, Lewis and Clark guard Vy Tran has faced her share of obstacles in life. So when a major knee injury cut her junior season short last year, she faced the challenge like everything else.
With determination and perseverance.
Finally healthy, the senior has not only returned to the court, but has broken the starting lineup again for coach Gabe Medrano.
Her recovery, rehabilitation and return from the ACL and meniscus injuries she sustained last season to her left knee is inspiring enough. But she’s done it all while acting as caretaker for her two younger sisters and acting as translator for her father, who immigrated to Spokane from Vietnam when Vy was in fifth grade.
Tran didn’t start playing basketball until seventh grade, but took to it quickly. She was starting to attract college scouts before the injury and still hopes to play at the next level where the level of athletics will be an equivalent to her studies.
But she understands she’s behind again.
“Last year was a year where I got my confidence and, you know, I get the hang of playing real basketball, being a scorer for the team,” she said. “Now, I lost the opportunity because of my surgery. There’s motivation for me to just get back and do what I love. So, hopefully, I can still play college basketball.”
The Tigers hosted Gonzaga Prep on Jan. 19, 2021.
“I just go for a layup. Fastbreak,” Tran said. “And I just landed on my left knee. Just normal. And then it just popped out of place.”
Her first reaction was to walk it off and get back in the game.
“All I was thinking about was, ‘Get up and keep playing,’ you know? I didn’t care about the pain. It didn’t hurt that bad.”
But it was hurt. Badly.
Reconstructive surgery came March 22, and a week later she was in physical therapy. Tran had to learn how to walk again.
“It was very frustrating because, you know, in my head I’m like, ‘ OK, let’s just start walking now.’ But I absolutely had no control over my muscles, and it was really tough.”
“She’s been really amazing about it,” Medrano said.
Medrano told Tran about a couple of former Tigers players who went through the process and it helped her to see that if others could come back, so could she.
The message was simple, and difficult at the same time – “You got to do the work.”
“Like any kid, it never seems like the end is here,” Medrano said. “But then it slowly started to get here and slowly started getting here and she was relentless in her work.”
A competitive person by nature, Tran approached rehab as a competition against herself.
“The hardest part was not able to move like I used to,” she said. “I’m a very active person and to just sit there and take step by step, to be patient with the process and everything was the hardest part.”
It took several months of rehab for Tran to get enough strength back in her leg to be confident in walking again. But as soon as that turned, she progressed into athletic activity.
“I was not able to play for like six months or so – not contact, obviously, just standing and shoot, basic stuff. I couldn’t be able to do layups until I hit eight months.”
Tran was finally cleared for contact in mid-November and started practicing with the team – a milestone she doggedly kept in front of her during the process.
“I think, you know, when she got permission, ‘Hey, you can go out there and you can go 5-on-5,’ … she was like, ‘Oh, I can play, coach. I can play.’ ” Medrano said. “She was just like, ‘OK, this is real now. It’s gonna happen.’ ”
Tran is not back to where she was before the injury, but getting closer with every practice and every game.
“I kind of feel like I hold myself back a little bit because mentally, my knee is not fully strong. So I try to keep it like a good pace, but also be able to make plays and stuff, not trying to rush it.
“Even if I try to go full out, my body does not let me.”
Medrano tries to keep Tran on an even keel.
“She just wanted to go, go, go,” he said. “Sometimes you gotta rest. Sometimes you got to pull back a little bit.”
In the eight games in which Tran has played since her return to the lineup on Dec. 16, she’s averaging 9.3 points per game – leading the Tigers.
She is not taking for granted being able to play again, but believes there’s more she can offer.
“I will say I can do better,” she said. “I feel like if there’s just one thing I got to get the hang of is just being on the court again.”
A ‘different environment’
Tran’s father moved to Spokane before the rest of the family. She was raised in what she describes as a “very traditional” family in Vietnam. She did not participate in athletics as a child and did not speak English until enrolling in school in America.
“Since I was a kid, I never think about basketball or anything,” she said. “So I moved here – It’s a whole different environment. I didn’t know English, so I felt left out, you know. But I’m a pretty good learner, so I learned to speak English, the way American people do.”
Her parents did not learn the language, so Tran is obligated to translate for her father when the need arises.
“If her dad has to take the car in, she has to miss school to go take it in so she can translate,” Medrano said. “So she has basketball, she has school, and then she is helping do all the family stuff. And I don’t know how she does it.”
“It’s pretty tough,” Tran said. “But it just give me more motivation to be better in life.”
Her parents were not supportive of her desire to get involved in athletics.
“I would say they’re very traditional. They don’t want their daughters to be involved in sport. More traditional type, you know, stay at home,” she said.
“It was rough to fight against them to let me play basketball, even though they don’t support me. But since they see how much I love basketball, now they just like, ‘OK, I see what you doing there, the hard work.’ So now they’re supporting me.”
Basketball helped Tran with the language barrier and cultural differences.
“Playing basketball helps in my English, to help me to have more friends and be more confident to be out there and feel more like, you know, I belong here.”
Tran’s mother no longer lives with her family – “back and forth in my life,” Tran said – so she has supervisory responsibilities for her sisters, ages 14 and 5, even bringing them to practice on occasion if her father is working.
“It’s just definitely, like, tough because my parents are not together,” she said.
“The responsibility of being the oldest one in a family, I have sisters to take care of and of course, my dad have to work and take care of the whole family. So being the second oldest of the house, I gotta make sure everything is organized.”