Gracie Martin of Biddeford High strengthens her injured knee at Southern Maine Health Care Sports Performance Center. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

For Gracie Martin, the SMAA girls’ basketball senior all-star game in early March was a chance to showcase her talents with some of the best players in the state. Instead it became a nightmare for the 6-foot-1 guard from Biddeford High.

Five seconds into the game, as Martin went to accept a pass from a teammate, she planted her left foot – and her knee buckled.

She had suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament, as well as a partial meniscus tear. And for someone who earned a spot to play Division I basketball at Harvard, and was looking forward to contributing as a freshman next year, the injury was devastating.

“The first week was pretty awful with the pain,” Martin said. “And emotionally it was hard to get through. But I’m better now.”

She had surgery, performed by Dr. Lincoln Avery, on March 27. He estimates a 7- to 8-month recovery time. “Everything she broke, we fixed,” said Avery. “Now hopefully we can get her back on the court … I think she’s coming along nicely.”

Biddeford’s Gracie Martin was one of the state’s top players for four years. Now she is working to return from a knee injury.  Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

Since the surgery, Martin has realized she has new goals to meet.

“It’s been the little victories I have to focus on, the little positives,” said Martin, who walks with the help of one crutch. “Like trying to get out and be around people. It’s tough to do that now. But I have a great support system and … people are going through much worse things in their lives. So I keep recording little victories every day and that’s what’s getting me through.”

She’s rehabbing her knee at the Southern Maine Health Care Sports Performance Center in Saco under the supervision of Mike Hersey, the director of sports medicine. She goes three times a week for 90 minutes at a time. She recently began performing weight-bearing exercises and rode a stationary bike for the first time. They will slowly work to strengthen her knee before beginning any basketball-specific exercises. “Jumping, lateral movement,” said Hersey. “If she’s going to be a Division I athlete, there’s going to be a lot of those.”

And while Hersey works on getting her physically healed, Martin is also undergoing psychological healing. “We need to make sure she’s physically ready and mentally ready to return to sports,” said Hersey.

Martin meets once a week with Jan Veinot, the Morse girls’ basketball coach who is a licensed counselor. “Whether you’re performing in sports or recovering from injury, there is a mental side of it,” said Veinot. “With injury recovery, it becomes really important. Some of the things involved are stress, identity and self-worth. After an injury there’s fear of reinjury, the whole idea that your hopes and dreams are shattered.”

Veinot said an athlete recovering from a traumatic injury has to change goals. Now, instead of working on basketball skills, Martin works on getting her knee healthy. So Veinot has her work on things such as positive self-talk, imagery and relaxation/breathing therapy. “It’s a whole different mental mindset,” said Veinot.

Martin said Veinot “helps me regroup mentally after a long week … It’s been very beneficial and I’m grateful to have her because it’s challenging mentally.”

Martin knows what she’s working for. The Ivy League, which includes Harvard, doesn’t grant redshirt seasons. So it’s unlikely she’ll play as a freshman.

She contacted Harvard Coach Kathy Delaney-Smith the night of the injury and was told to take her time in her recovery. “She was real with me,” said Martin of Delaney-Smith, who cannot comment on incoming recruits. “She told me there were going to be times when I was lonely in the training room and the rest of the team was practicing. But she also told me I’ll have a great support system there.”

Biddeford’s Gracie Martin was also considered an outstanding volleyball player. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

Martin knows what to expect. Her older sister, Erin, a junior softball player at the University of Southern Maine (batting a team-high .402), suffered a torn ACL in high school. And, she said, “So many other girls have reached out to me.”

Among them, Allie Clement and Sarah Clement, two former McAuley High stars who suffered multiple ACL tears but continued to play into college, Allie at Marist and Sarah at New Hampshire.

Their father, Brian Clement, coached Martin on the Maine Firecrackers AAU team. He was one of the first to reach out to Martin.

“I’m not sure that we said anything magical,” he said. “Just that we cared for her. She’s a special kid … She has an unusual competitive spirit and is a kid I bonded with.”

Martin finished her Biddeford career with 1,436 points, and as a senior averaged 24.9 points and 11.8 rebounds. “Her potential is just out of this world,” said Biddeford Coach Katie Herbine. “She can play any position and that’s what makes her special.”

Martin also was a standout volleyball player for the Tigers. And as a freshman she played shortstop – next to her sister Erin at third base – on Biddeford’s Class A state championship softball team. She gave up softball to concentrate on basketball. Martin was also a pretty good football player, playing on Biddeford’s fifth- and sixth-grade teams as quarterback, linebacker, punter and kicker.

That competitiveness will be important in her recovery.

“She’s really driven and self-motivated,” said Hersey. “We tell her to do something and honestly, we have to tell her to stop because she’s doing too much. … There’s some pressure to potentially get back sooner. But it’s in her head that she’s not playing next year. I think she’s in a good place about it. She gets it.”

As Martin said, “I’m not going to sugarcoat it, it’s really tough. But I’ll get through it. I’m going to bounce back.”

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