To anyone who knows Erin Waskowiak, it probably isn't too surprising that just moments after a gruesome leg injury, her thoughts turned to basketball.
On the night of Aug. 31, Waskowiak was standing in front of her house when her brother accidentally hit the gas on the family car and crushed Waskowiak's left leg against a wall.
Waskowiak, who starred at Bishop Canevin and accepted a scholarship to play at Duquesne this season, tried to walk but felt her leg flopping limp beneath her.
"One thing that I thought about right away was Kevin Ware from Louisville, because that's what it looked like when I tried walking on it," Waskowiak said, referring to Ware's severe leg injury in the NCAA basketball tournament in March.
"I literally called my Duquesne coaches right after it happened, as I was laying on the ground. I was really scared."
Waskowiak has a compound tibia fracture, an injury similar to Ware's. Initially there was concern that the injury would require amputation, but that turned out to not be necessary. Waskowiak faces a grueling rehabilitation process but has her sights set on playing basketball again.
Waskowiak was set to have her fourth surgery Tuesday, and could have one or two more after that.
Duquesne coach Dan Burt said it will be at least a year before Waskowiak is ready to start playing again and could even be longer than that.
"It's going to take a lot of work," Waskowiak said. "I have to just do it in order to play again. I have to get my leg stronger than it ever was, really."
Burt has been in constant contact with Waskowiak since the accident and said she has been in good spirits despite the daunting task ahead of her.
"Her spirits are great," he said. "I think she's a little tired of sitting in a hospital bed, but her spirits are fantastic."
Before the injury, Waskowiak was ready to continue her successful basketball career with the Dukes. As a high school senior, she led Bishop Canevin to its first WPIAL and PIAA championships. She scored more than 1,900 career points.
For now, though, she's confined to a bed at Mercy Hospital near Duquesne's campus. Waskowiak said she has been buoyed by visits from her high school and college coaches and teammates. Burt's staff and players have worked out a rotation system so that there's at least a small group that visits Waskowiak each day.
Waskowiak only spent a week in classes at Duquesne and plans to take this semester off to focus on her rehab before she goes back to school in January. Still, Waskowiak said, she'll be around her teammates as much as she can.
"It just puts a big smile on my face [when my teammates visit]," she said. "They cheer me up a lot. It's all laughs when they come over. I'm glad that I'm a part of the team still."
That doesn't mean there aren't tough times, as well. Waskowiak's parents and family are there as much as they can be, but sometimes the long nights alone in the hospital allow thoughts and images from the accident to creep in.
"The only thing that gets emotional is when I'm in here by myself and it's so painful," she said. "[At first] I kept picturing [the accident] over and over again."
Burt is confident Waskowiak will tackle the challenge of rehabilitation.
"She's a very tough individual who's got a little bit of stubbornness in her," Burt said. "If there's anyone who this injury could've happened to and they would succeed coming back from it, it's without a doubt Erin. She's a very tough kid."
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @SWernerPG. First Published September 11, 2013 4:00 AM