Back on Track: Annissa Hastings
When an athlete sustains an injury that sidelines him or her for an entire season, the first reaction is that of disbelief and confusion. Some common questions might be, "How could this happen to me, and why?" and "What am I going to do now?"
These were the questions senior forward Annissa Hastings asked herself repeatedly when a torn Achilles, suffered during individual workouts last September\, sidelined her for the 2003-04 season - her true senior year. It was during her time away from the court, while recuperating from surgery and undergoing daily rehab sessions, that Hastings was able to learn more about herself and the importance of accepting one's role on a team.
"It was mentally tough for me to have to sit out the entire season last year," stated the rangy 6-2 post player. "We had just come off an appearance in the Final Four and were returning most of the same players, so we were so excited to get back on the court and continue where we left off. It was such a blow when I got injured after making a simple cut. I didn't know what I was going to do and why it had happened. So, I just prayed a lot, and went to work."
Yet, it seems Hastings DID know what to do, because after 11 months spent rehabbing her injury and working hard to regain her strength and explosiveness, Annissa has returned to the court stronger and more confident in her role on the team.
Known for her tenacity, high energy, talkativeness and leadership, Hastings credits her time away from the game in helping her become the player she is today. It was especially painful to miss last season as Hastings was coming off a standout NCAA post-season performance, with her defense, rebounding and emotional play being a catalyst for the Longhorns as they advanced to the NCAA Final Four in Atlanta.
"An important lesson I learned was that of being patient,"Hastings admitted. "You have to be patient in trying to overcome the obstacles that have been placed in front of you. I also learned that every time you step on the court, you have to give 110% because you never know when it is going to be your last game."
These lessons learned also have been lessons shared.
Last year, Annissa was a member of the Longhorn Leaders, a program that recruits student-athletes from The University of Texas to act as mentors to middle school students in at-risk schools. The program, unique among universities in the Big 12 Conference, is a collaboration among the university, the Greater Austin Crime Commission, the Austin Independent School District (AISD) and the Austin Police Department. It debuted in fall 2003 and is the brainchild of Dr. Michael Lauderdale, UT professor of social work.
During her school visits, Hastings would speak to the middle schoolers about the hardships and dilemmas she's faced; and about the amount of work and dedication that it took for her while at San Antonio's inner city Sam Houston HS to be accepted to Texas.
Most important is her recurring message to youngsters that being a student-athlete is not all about athletics. In order to be on the court, or playing field, you must also make the grades. That was one of her most important messages as a Longhorn Leader.
Hastings recalled her time with the Longhorn Leaders as being very positive. "It's like we were giving the young kids a game plan for life," she noted. "The program gave me an opportunity to tell my story, talk about my injury and share my life lessons."
With crutches in tow, Hastings would travel to the middle schools and tell the students, "No matter where you come from and regardless of people telling you that you cannot make it, you will succeed if you work hard and go for your dreams."
Through her work with the Longhorn Leaders program, Annissa discovered that all she has experienced and overcome could be a useful teaching tool. An education major who is a Big 12 Commissioner's Honor Roll student, Annissa aspires to become a basketball coach and teacher.
Looking back at her time at Texas, Hastings notes that something she has learned - and will be sure to emphasize when she is coaching - is that importance should not be placed on whether or not a player is in the starting rotation. Hasting recalls her college career in which she would start one game and then not the next. It was discouraging for her at first, but then she realized that her role was to come off the bench and make an impact on the game.
"It's a big deal for some people to be in the starting lineup, and now I know that it isn't really important," stated Hastings, who has started four of the nine games to date while averaging six points, five rebounds and 19 minutes per contest while hitting at a 67 percent clip from the floor. "I will tell them that it doesn't matter if you start or come off the bench. The only thing that matters is the impact you have when you enter the game. Can you come in and change something in the game to make your presence known? That's the sign of a good player and a team player."
Hastings' presence, enthusiasm and energy definitely was missed last season, but she has returned for her final year determined to pick up where she left off prior to her injury. Time spent away from the game has given Hastings a renewed outlook on life and the role she plays on this team. Many lessons were learned, but there is one that stands out above them all.
"Take advantage of the opportunities you are given," Hastings says with resolve. "When you get an opportunity, make the most of it every day."