Erika Arriaran: A new role to play
Top athletes are no strangers to adversity. Practices are grueling, competition is intense and physically and emotionally demanding. Yet, one of the biggest challenges athletes face is how to respond when an abrupt injury takes them out of the game they love and forces them to recover on the sidelines.
Sophomore guard Erika Arriaran is dealing with that right now.
The No. 22 Longhorns' second-leading scorer and top three-point shooter, the 5-10 shooting guard suffered a season-ending injury on Jan. 7 when she tore her left knee ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) with just 31 seconds to go in the upset win over No. 10 Purdue.
The 2006 All-Big 12 Rookie Team selection, who was averaging nearly 11 points per game, is braving her newest challenge by establishing a new -- an unexpected -- role for herself on the Texas squad.
"I have to be here, day in and day out, to support and cheer for my team," said Arriaran, who will undergo surgery in early February for the ACL tear. "I can't do anything else now but rehab, get stronger, go to class and cheer. I love cheering for them. I want to help out the coaches and my team in any way possible."
As Arriaran continues to adjust to her new role since the injury, her California-based family remains a constant source of comfort and support. Her mother, Alexis Arriaran, was visiting from their hometown of Norco, Calif., and watching the Longhorns battle Purdue in the stands when she witnessed her daughter fall to the floor with 31 seconds left in the game.
"It's been a blessing that I could be here with her during this time," noted Mrs. Arriaran. "Sometimes you don't know why things happen the way they do, but there are a lot of positives Erika can pull from this. She has never been injured like this before. As a mom, I'm really glad that I was here."
Arriaran came to UT after starring at Norco High School where she earned National High School Player of the Year honors from both Naismith and the Women's Basketball Coaches Association/Nike as a senior in 2004-05. Yet, she is not the only athletic superstar in the family.
Her family members are well-versed in athletics, as her father, Jim Arriaran, played football for the University of Oregon, while her mother competed in marathons. Erika also has one older sister, Natasia, who starred in basketball at Cal Baptist University. Her younger sister, 5-10 volleyball setter and high school senior Samantha, will come to the Big 12 Conference next year as well, as she signed with the University of Oklahoma.
Even though Arriaran plays basketball for a Division I program and hails from such an athletically-gifted family, she admits that she's not a huge sports fan.
"I hate watching sports, to be honest," Erika said. "People tell me I need to watch to get more knowledge about the game, but I have to make myself watch. The only time I watch sports is when our team is playing, and I like pro soccer as well because my dad played the sport. I love playing the game, but I have no interest in watching it on television."
As Erika continues to rally around her team, her positive attitude and outgoing demeanor are two of her most distinguishable qualities both on and off the court. She attributes some of her dramatic style to the dynamic background of her family. Her maternal grandfather is a retired opera singer for the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, and her grandmother was a stage performer on Broadway.
"When I talk to people, they always say that I'm really animated and probably should go into theater," laughed Arriaran, who is majoring in education but intrigued with public relations as well. "I think I got that from them!"
Along with her bright and positive attitude, the support of her teammates and family are carrying Arriaran through the recovery process.
There is a famous quote which goes, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge."
Overcoming a serious knee injury is a daunting challenge for any athlete, but Arriaran's commitment to rehabilitation while encouraging her team in the process reveals Arriaran's true competitive strength.
"What can I do but work through this?" Arriaran mused when talking about the long rehabilitation process which awaits her. "I'm sorry to my teammates, my coaches and to the fans that I won't be out on the court the rest of the season. I just love playing here for Texas, and cannot wait to be back on the court.
"I look at what Earnie (Williams) goes through with her knees, and what Carla (Cortijo) endures every day, and they have it much worse than I do," Arriaran concluded, philosophically. "I know that they are strong and love the game like I do, and I draw strength from how hard they've worked at getting back on the court. Somehow, this is a blessing in disguise. I am committed to come back stronger than ever."