BURNABY — In her childhood days in London, Ont., Meg Wilson would always tell her mom that when the day came for her to pick one sport, she would choose running.
“I had never even done track and field, but that’s what I would say because I’ve always just loved to run,” the Simon Fraser Clan’s senior forward explains as a portent to the future. “For me, it’s just something that has always come easily.”
In an end-to-end, 94-foot sprint, few in her sport have the natural acceleration and even fewer the length of stride that comes when a 6-foot-1 frame operates in perfect harmony.
“Meg is unique because very few players her size have that kind of speed,” says SFU head coach Bruce Langford, “nevermind the ability to shoot the three, finish with either hand and put the ball on the floor.”
When the Clan (11-2) takes to the floor Saturday (5 p.m.) at home against Central Washington (3-10), it’s the first thing you will notice about her.
Yet to hear her back story is wonder what business she even has being on the court, let alone sitting among the top 10 in both scoring (14.9 ppg) and rebounding (5.9 rpg) in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, because just over a year ago, Wilson lost her graceful stride with no promise of ever getting it back.
The ongoing pain and cramping in both of her legs was too much to endure, and so in January of 2016, surgeons operated on both of her legs, leaving her at first bound to crutches, and later, to taking the baby steps she trusted would lead to her back to her place on the court atop Burnaby Mountain for a nationally-ranked team determined to experience the madness of March.
WALK IN HER SHOES
Compartment syndrome is a condition in which excessive pressure builds up in an enclosed muscle space, limiting the flow of blood to tissues in that area.
After months of guessing by doctors, it was finally determined to be the cause of the pain she was suffering in the calves of both of her legs.
“My calves were so tight that my feet would just go numb,” begins Wilson. “There was no room for my muscles to expand, so when they did, they would start pinching nerves in my arteries and veins. In my third season (2014-15), I played a couple of games where I couldn’t feel my feet in the second half.”
The surgery, done in her hometown of London, was part of an entire 2015-16 season lost to the condition.
Yet Wilson spent only two weeks at the family home before limping through the airport to return to her studies as a health sciences major at SFU.
“It was a long road and I couldn’t walk for a long time, but I shot a lot of free throws because you can do those without jumping,” she continues. “The first time I even tried to jump I felt like the most unathletic person around. When you get both legs done at once, it takes a while. I was not what I used to be.”
Which deep down inside was a young girl who loved to run.
A LATE FLYER
Bruce Langford was on the hunt for talent for the 2013-14 season, not the one upcoming, when he flew out to watch the Ontario club championships in May of 2012.
By that juncture of the year, the best players for the upcoming season were supposed to have all been spoken for.
Yet it wasn’t too long before the coach, known to some in the crowd for coaching B.C. to a gold medal at the 2001 Canada Summer Games, was approached by spectators.
Langford was surpised to learn that Wilson, a high school senior from A.B. Lucas Secondry playing for the London Ramblers club team, was as yet unsigned.
Langford expressed his interest in a couple of conversations, and before he could leave the gym, a parent of two other players on the Ramblers’ team approached him and ultimately helped with the recruitment.
“June 1 was the date that you had to accept your Ontario offer,” said Wilson who had been leaning towards the University of Toronto but for some reason didn’t sign. “So on June 1, all of my friends had accepted their offers, and that day I got on a plane and came here for my visit.”
Wilson had heard about Simon Fraser a few years previous when soccer was her main sport, and she was intrigued by the fact that a Canadian school had moved to the NCAA.
“It was pouring rain when I got here, and Langford told me that the rain is just beautiful here,” she remembers. “I was looking for a place where the girls loved basketball as much as I did and when I went into the gym I met (former star Clan guard) Kristina Collins. She was working out. I got a good vibe.”
And a good base to enter the national team program.
After her second and third seasons at SFU, Wilson played in 14 combinded international games with Canada’s national development team. In 2014 her team won the Jones Cup in Taepei, and in 2015, months ahead of her surgery, she helped Canada to second place at the FISU Games in Korea, where she bonded with Ruth Hamblin, the Houston, B.C. native who has parlayed her Oregon State career into a WNBA career.
“It was an awesome experience playing with that group of girls,” says Wilson. “Every practice is a battle. It was so competitive and wanted to bring that back to my team and show the young players how hard you need to work.”
To that end, Wilson is a caretaker to the team’s traditions.
BETTER THAN BEFORE
Meg Wilson is not The Bionic Woman, but like the title character in the 1970s TV series, she has met adversity and seemingly come back better than she was before.
So varied has her skill set become, in fact, that Langford has some interesting thoughts on just how the opposition prepares for her.
“Nobody plans to try and stop Meg and there are a couple of reasons for that,” the coach says. “She has some versatility to her game so what are you stopping? If you try and stop her three-point shot, she is driving. If you sag off her, she is shooting the three.”
Things are going Wilson’s way.
After her Clan career is done, she is hoping to play professionally overseas, and she’s currently taking the last two courses she needs to earn her degree.
SFU is sitting in the top three in the conference standings and her partnership with the likes of veterans Ellen Kett, Elisa Homer and fellow Londoner Rachel Fradgley has the Clan ranked 24th in the latest NCAA Div. 2 poll.
But most of all she is just happy to be back and self-admittedly, feeling better than ever.
“In the offseason while I was recovering, I worked on a lot of the smaller muscles and the smaller movements,” Wilson says of her rehab sessions. “I didn’t add anything crazy to my game, but I focused on those details and coming through my recovery, I feel like I see the court better with improved balance, and I think I can drive the ball better.”
She not The Bionic Woman, but she is pain free and back to being the girl who loves to run.
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