By Michael Schuster
Below the surface of Rebecca Morrissette’s charming, albeit reserved, persona, there’s sincerity and courage. Her modesty and desire to succeed is enviable, but it’s her strength that has guided her inspirational tale through adversity.
When she was getting ready for high school, Morrissette, a junior forensics major at VCU, began noticing a sharp pain in her knees that forced her to seek orthopedic assistance. On the verge of trying out for her high school basketball team in Chester, Va., she and her family sought the medical attention of one of the best orthopedic doctors in Virginia.
Morrissette was diagnosed with Osgood-Schlatter disease, which causes inflammation, pain, and swelling of the bone and cartilage of the shin. X-rays also revealed a patellar dislocation of her knee, a condition in which the patella is unable to support ligaments and tendons surrounding the knee, and causes extreme discomfort. Although these injuries are not uncommon for female athletes, the orthopedic surgeon recommended an invasive surgical procedure to repair the knees with screws and other mechanical incisions. However, the surgery would also effectively end her athletics career, a harsh reality.
“Sports were my life,” Morrissette said. “I tried to focus and take my mind off of this terrible news, but athletics is all I really knew at that point. I tried to focus my time on school, but it was really difficult. I felt disappointed, I cried, and felt a lot of loneliness for a long period after the diagnosis.”
When she was 10 years old, Morrissette grew a foot and a half in a single year. At the time, she welcomed the growth spurt because she knew it would make her a better basketball player. But what Morrissette didn’t know at the time was that same growth spurt would also rob her of her athletic career before she was 15.
Morrissette had been a part of a number of recreational basketball teams since she was six years old. She was even selected to play in a special AAU league for gifted players. She hoped her talent would eventually lead to a college scholarship. Now, that dream was over.
Throughout her youth, her father, Doug, had been a source of encouragement for Morrissette and pushed her to be the best athlete and individual that she could be. Once Morrissette realized she could not play basketball anymore, she was devastated. But her family and friends rallied around her and encouraged her to move forward, despite the circumstances.
“My family showed me a lot of support during these tough times,” she said. “My dad seemed to take it as hard as I did. As for my friends, they showed support by telling me that there were other ways to succeed and be happy. Everyone definitely provided me with fuel and courage to seek other passions.”
To fill the void once occupied by athletics, Morrissette turned her attention to other interests, namely music and science. With her support system of friends and family as her inspiration, she began taking trumpet lessons and joined the marching band at Thomas Dale High School. As time passed, the physical pain and surgical wounds healed. In their place, she began constructing a vision of her future. She dove headlong into music and became a talented trumpet player.
When she came to VCU in the fall of 2009, Morrissette wanted to keep playing music, but still missed athletics. Her solution was to join the VCU Athletics Pep Band, “The Peppas”. A fixture at VCU basketball games, the band offered her a chance embrace her passions of music and basketball.
“It worked out really well as an alternative to playing sports. Going to the NCAA tournament was awesome and being around basketball was still really important to me. I met all my VCU friends there, and it’s just a huge support system that’s allowed me to be a part of something bigger than myself,” she said.
Seeing the smiles in the crowd from her family and friends who often come out to cheer her on, Morrissette now understands that life is filled with obstacles and dealing with adversity shows the true character of that person. She doesn’t dwell on the past. Instead, she’s focusing on the future, including her pursuit of a degree within VCU’s challenging forensics program, which she juggles with a part-time job and her pep band commitments.
Even through years of battling her own uncertainties, Morrissette still remains positive and continues to keep a smile on her face. Her story is one of triumph, adversity, and perseverance and shows that no matter what challenge, there is always a way to realize your dreams.