Chrissy Ducharme had a moment of realization as she watched her daughter lie in bed post surgery surrounded by her UConn women’s basketball teammates at The Graduate hotel in Storrs.
It was late April and Caroline Ducharme had just undergone surgery on her left hip. Paige Bueckers, Aaliyah Edwards, Nika Mühl, Dorka Juhász, Amari DeBerry and Piath Gabriel (now in the transfer portal) were there with balloons and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Mühl got a card that wished a “Happy Birthday” to Ducharme’s “new” hip. Associate athletic trainer Janelle Francisco was there at one point that afternoon too.
“It was so moving,” Chrissy Ducharme told The Hartford Courant. “I just stopped… and was like, ‘I get it, honey. This is it. This is your family. This is why you’re here. ‘”
The Ducharmes had long planned for Caroline to have the surgery – to repair an injury sustained in high school – following her freshman season. They’d intended for her to have the procedure back home in a Boston hospital with the same doctor who had performed the same surgery on her older sister, Ashley. But after fighting through a season in pain and developing a close bond with her teammates, Caroline asked her parents if she could have the surgery at UConn.
This year, Caroline’s first living away from home, has been about trust for Chrissy and Todd Ducharme. Trust that their daughter could make her own decisions. Trust that she could play through the pain. Trust to go about the surgery and rehab process the way she wanted, in UConn’s facilities under the team’s training staff. As Caroline spends each day alongside Juhász, who is rehabbing a fractured left wrist suffered during the NCAA Tournament, it’s clear to them that this was the right call all along.
“Everyone knows rehab can be hard mentally and physically,” Caroline said. “So I think just [Dorka and I] having each other, kind of help each other get through it and help to keep our spirits up has been great. ”
Caroline does not recall exactly when she first hurt her hip, though she thinks it may have been her junior season of high school. The injury progressed over time and was managed with treatment, but it was clear it would need to be addressed eventually.
When the Ducharmes met with UConn team orthopedic physician Dr. Michael Joyce prior to Caroline’s freshman year, they determined she could wait to have surgery without any long-term damage.
“Dr. Joyce was great, ”Todd Ducharme recalled,“ and said that, ‘Look, unless it’s something that you physically can not get through or that it’s so painful that you just can not play, then we’ll look at getting the surgery. But until then, we’ll see if we can get through the season and do it right at the end of the season. ‘ “
Caroline wasn’t ever going to admit it was too painful, though. She expressed as much after that appointment, which was not a surprise to her parents. That’s who she is. There’s a certain saying the family has for the 6-foot-2 guard: “She will not be denied.”
But the hip nagged and had an effect on Caroline all season, her parents said. Meanwhile, injuries started to add up for the Huskies. Azzi Fudd and Bueckers both missed significant time starting in December, and Aubrey Griffin was out all season.
Ducharme stepped up to keep the season alive in their absences, averaging 17.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.0 assists from Dec. 11 to Feb. 2, including a game-winning shot at DePaul on Jan. 26. But then Ducharme got hit hard in multiple contests, forcing her to sit out four games from Feb. 4-11. UConn coach Geno Auriemma was vague about the nature of the injury at the time; a head injury was mentioned at one point, but tests did not show a concussion.
Phone calls home frequently started with discussing the hip and how much pain Caroline was in. Those conversations were tough for Todd and Chrissy, knowing their daughter was struggling. They’d repeatedly ask if she wanted to continue playing through it, but ultimately knew they had to trust her judgment.
“She was like, ‘I’m gonna do anything and everything to help this team and it does not matter what I’m feeling. This is what I’m gonna do, ‘”Chrissy recalled.
“That is who she is. … She’s going to find a way, she’s going to figure it out. She’s going to scrap, she’s so determined. And she just loves basketball and she loves this team – she just immediately fell in love with all these girls and the coaches and is so committed to it. ”
As much of a toll as it took, looking back now, Caroline would not change the decision.
“It was definitely painful,” Ducharme said. “But I think the way that I was able to attack it throughout the season and keep it together in order to play was really great, and I’m glad I did it. I definitely would not have wanted to get the surgery before. ”
While all of their teammates have been home visiting families and taking a much-needed break in recent weeks, Ducharme and Juhász have been in Storrs rehabbing their injuries.
“We’re feeling good,” Juhász said. “We made a lot of progress. It’s also been a little bit easier to have each other because obviously our injuries are completely different, but just to have someone there that can go to rehab every day (with you), it can get kinda boring doing the same exercises, so it’s good to have one of your teammates there. ”
The duo has developed quite the steady routine. They spend 9 am to 3 pm at UConn’s facilities working with trainers, coaches and academic staff, spending time with Francisco and director of sports performance Andrea Hudy. The timeline for both players is to be back to working out with the team sometime in August, Auriemma said last week.
Neither Ducharme or Juhász have a car (though it’s not like they could drive anyway with their injuries), so they spend the rest of the time hanging out at their apartments. Nights are for watching WNBA and NBA games. Ducharme often has two or three screens going at once and will send her parents photos or call in excitement over something that happened in the W. They’ve especially enjoyed watching UConn teammates OIivia Nelson-Ododa, on the Los Angeles Sparks, and Evina Westbrook , with the Minnesota Lynx.
They attended a WNBA game in person on Tuesday night, enjoying their first night out courtside as the Connecticut Sun played the Dallas Wings. Juhász had a two month follow up with her doctor earlier in the day and got her cast off, though she still plans to wear it whenever she works out.
“The bones are healing really well,” Juhász said. “So for me it’s kind of just getting the mobility, flexion, you know, everything back to normal. And then once I have that, I’m pretty close to done, and then I can start strengthening. … Probably I’ll be ready sooner than I think, but just gotta get back the strength, that confidence and building up the muscles around the bone and everything. ”
Ducharme also hit a milestone as of late, progressing from two crutches to one. The current focus of her rehab is activating the muscles, so she’s been doing motion work in the pool. She’s been able to put more weight on the left leg, even doing small squats.
Though the rehab process is often repetitive and tedious, Ducharme is starting to feel the day she’s back fully healthy drawing closer and closer.
“Once I was able to get moving,” Ducharme said, “It was kind of like, ‘Okay, I can kind of see the light at the end.'”
Lila Bromberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @LilaBBromberg on Twitter.