“It was like being a part of a book and finally figuring out the cause of all the pain, the cause of the injuries. Everything started coming together. Just thinking back, I had to ask myself, how in the world did I continue to play?”
ShaRae Mansfield was a superstar on the court during her four years at Western Kentucky University. In 2001, she was a third-round draft pick for the WNBA’s Houston Comets.
All this success came despite the fact that ShaRae was in near-constant pain. By the time she graduated, she’d had six surgeries on her ACL. She loved the game, but her injuries eventually cut her career short, a development that sent her into what she calls a “basketball depression.”
Unsure of what to do next, she went back to finish her degree, then sought help from a psychologist. Little by little, she began to grasp the ways in which losing her athletic identity impacted her, and to work through it. Then—a decade later—a surprising medical diagnosis helped her comprehend all that had happened in her body.
Out of all this pain and challenge came a fierce determination to help others in similar situations. She’s now an advocate for people with chronic conditions (and leader of the Beautiful Warriors support group). And, as a Ph.D. candidate in psychology, ShaRae is studying the difficult transition period out of sports—aiming to smooth the path forward for the next generation of retiring athletes.
In this episode, we discuss:
- How injuries are viewed in basketball—and the struggle not to see them as weaknesses (6:40)
- Her earliest experiences with injury and pain, and some of the red flags that popped up as early as elementary school (11:19)
- The biggest regret she has about her collegiate career (13:53)
- The huge high of being drafted into the WNBA, and why it was tempered by a feeling of uncertainty (19:15)
- The “soul-crushing” news that came after that (21:51)
- The challenges she faced when her career was truly over (30:48)
- The big revelation, a decade later, that finally explained her extensive injury history (36:58)
- What it felt like when she finally was able to move without pain (43:56)
- What she’s studying now, and how she hopes to help other athletes (54:34)
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- ShaRae’s Beautiful Warriors support group for people with chronic conditions
- More of her story on the Arthritis Foundation website
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