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How Baylor’s DiDi Richards recovered from temporary paralyzation to reach March Madness

The Bears guard bounced back from a scary collision in practice to be a key piece of a Final Four hopeful.

Oregon v Baylor Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Baylor Bears women’s basketball is set to begin their first game of the 2021 NCAA tournament as a No. 2 seed in the River Walk region. For one Bear in particular, the road to the NCAA tournament has involved returning from a scary injury that threatened to derail her career.

DiDi Richards was temporarily paralyzed after a freak collision in practice on October 24, 2020. Despite the devastating injury, she has been instrumental in Baylor’s regular season and will play a major part in their tournament run.

The Injury

Richards and teammate Moon Ursin collided during an in-practice scrimmage, and the accident left Richards temporarily paralyzed from the hips down.

An accident like this would be devastating for anyone, but Richards was going into her fourth and final season and was slated to have a big year. The previous season, she was named Naismith Defensive Player of the Year and had made the Big 12 women’s basketball preseason team for 2020.

DiDi Richards Road to Recovery

First public footage of DiDi Richards & Moon Ursin colliding on Oct. 24. Experience the journey to recovery from the incident to day 38, where she scored just 13 seconds after checking in at South Florida Dec. 1! #SicEm

Posted by Baylor Lady Bear Basketball on Saturday, December 5, 2020

Though head coach Kim Mulkey did not see the hit, she heard it and said it was loud. She said it sounded “like a football collision without the pads.”

Richards passed out and later found that she had suffered a spinal cord injury. Fortunately, there was no structural damage, but the injury did leave her temporarily paralyzed from the hips down. It was spinal shock, and her ability to play in the future was in question.

The Recovery

Once medical professionals assured Kim Mulkey that Richards would be back, even Mulkey had her doubts. From the video of Richards struggling to walk across the hospital floor to rehabbing in practice with a walker, her doubts were reasonable, but she never voiced them.

“The mother instinct comes out in you, and it’s like, ‘To heck with basketball, let’s just get her back to normal DiDi, being able to walk and dance around and be happy.’”

But Richards did come back. She admitted it was tough.

“There were definitely times where I would be kind of discouraged, so I’d just go in my room and lay there watching TV, or sometimes even cry. I definitely had some hard times throughout this process.”

By Nov. 18, less than a month from the injury, she was shooting in the gym again.

As Mulkey described, her legs “woke up”. She said,

One day, she snuck into a defensive drill from the sideline, and I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ And I thought, ‘She really is coming back.’”

Richards was fully back on the court in 38 days of the collision.

Let’s take a second to marvel at that, from temporarily paralyzed to playing on the court again in just over a month. That’s amazing. It’s remarkable, not just because she had to get comfortable walking, let alone running again. But because she had to learn to trust herself on the court again.

Often, when players get injured, their bodies heal more quickly than their minds. Their training staff may clear them to play, but not trusting their bodies or the part of their body that was previously injured to function as it should without favoring it can be dangerous. Situations like these often lead to more injury. But for Richards to go from temporarily paralyzed to fully trusting her athletic ability again in just 38 days is remarkable. That shows her mental toughness.

And Richards’ toughness did not stop there. She averaged 7.3 points, 7.2 assists, and 1.6 steals per game this season and will play a pivotal role in the bears’ last tournament run of her collegiate career. To say the least, this tournament run will be a special one for Baylor and more specifically, DiDi Richards.