Hailee Hurtado, a senior on the Frederick girls basketball team, felt an eerily similar sensation run up her left knee as she was coming down from a layup attempt at the Warriors' summer camp at the University of Northern Colorado in June.
Her teammates call her the glue to the team. A second torn ACL in four years, however, threatened to break it all apart.
"At first I didn't want anything to do with basketball," Hurtado said. "The first day of tryouts, I literally had to take a second and leave. I just started crying in the bathroom, which is the most embarrassing thing to say. But being around it and seeing everybody play and do what they love, and do what I love, was so frustrating.
"I just couldn't stay away."
Nobody would have blamed Hurtado if she decided to call it a career. This was the second time she tore her ACL — tearing the ligament in the other knee just before entering her freshman year. And following her August surgery, the soonest the senior could likely be cleared to play is FHS' senior night on Feb. 12.
But she stayed.
For the love of the game — maybe. More likely, it was for more time with her mother (the JV coach), her sister and teammate Emilee, and one last run with her senior classmates who she's been playing with since any of them could remember.
Or perhaps it was because Hurtado can't grasp the idea of quitting anything — or anyone.
"Hailee has always been our go-to for everything," senior Danielle Hemelstrand said. "Having her there, even though it's just on the bench, she is really the glue that holds us all together."
Added senior Tori Dufour, "Hailee is literally everything."
While rehabbing her knee for a potential return in the final week of the regular season, Hurtado has carved out a role behind the scenes for a team hoping to get back to the state playoffs after breaking out of a seven-year postseason drought a season ago. The senior gives tips to younger players, gives her perspective on the game — everyone listens.
"Every kid on this team respects her like crazy," Frederick coach Brett Andersen said. "They are all ears when she is going to say something."
In a game against Weld Central on Dec. 20, the Warriors relied heavily on some younger players with their talented post player, Shea Chavez, relegated to the bench for long stretches due to foul trouble. In street clothes, Hurtado helped calm her younger teammates in an eventual 55-45 win.
It isn't the first time Hurtado has looked to help the young brass, either. Andersen recalled Hurtado recently tutoring a JV player to get off the ineligible list.
"I have a student that's ineligible on the JV team and Hailee came to me and said, 'Hey, can I offer to tutor her. I've taken all those classes she's taken'," Andersen said. "I said, 'Really Hailee? You don't have time for that'. And she said, 'I'll make time'."
Hurtado said her desire to help others stems from dark times of her own. Despair and confusion overcame the Hurtado household in April of 2017 when Hailee's two uncles died in a gas line explosion in Firestone. Mark Martinez and Joey Irwin were installing a water heater when the explosion engulfed the Twilight Ave. home in flames due to an uncapped gas line owned by the oil and gas company, Anadarko.
"In life sometimes, I know how it feels to be alone and feel like no one is there for you and can help you," she said. "I know how defeating that is — to struggle in silence like you're drowning, and no one can hear you."
The widespread effects of the tragedy is a big part of the reason Hurtado said she wants to study neuroscience in college. She believes she can further help people learning the science behind the human condition.
She said, "it seems like every day there is another shooting or some sort of tragedy and that affects people so much emotionally. And if I've been through it, too — grief and everything like that — I just want to help people, and I know in that field I can directly help. Maybe I can change one person's life just by my knowledge."
For now, helping someone in basketball or with their studies appears to be going a long way.
"She has the bigger picture in mind," Bo Hurtado, her father, said. "Sometimes as people we have a tendency to focus right in front of us, what's at the end of our desks so to speak. But for a kid, she can really see out in front of her."
Hurtado stood in front of her team's bench against Weld Central during pregame introductions and did a little handshake with each player who ran by. During the game, she often scanned the bench and breathed confidence into her teammates when they needed it most.
No, it's not the role she envisioned she'd have for the Warriors. It may be even more important.
Brent W. New: firstname.lastname@example.org and @brentwnew