Iowa Alumni Magazine | April 2008 | People

"Grandma" Bounces Back: Johanna Solverson

By Shelbi Thomas
Back-to-back injuries couldn't bench this Hawkeye's basketball career.

When Johanna Solverson landed awkwardly and painfully on the basketball court, she hoped desperately that she'd broken her leg. She wasn't that lucky.

Instead of being benched for eight weeks with a fracture, Iowa's senior forward sat out for eight months—again—with the second torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her Hawkeye career.

Despite the natural "why me?" feelings, Solverson reemerged with more resolve than ever. "The first time [you go through ACL injury rehabilitation], you're scared to push yourself," says Solverson, who took a medical redshirt during the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons. "The second time you know what you have to do to get better."

The road to recovery began with a surgery to reconstruct her right ACL, a ligament that connects the femur to the tibia. Solverson immediately rejoined her teammates for practice, but while they took to the court, she did rehabilitation exercises from the sidelines. "You think you can come back right away, but you can't even raise your leg," says the Lake Zurich, Illinois native. "It's like learning to do everything all over again."

During her first injury, Solverson had plenty of company on the bench. She was one of five players in 2005-06 who had knee surgery. Female athletes are five times more likely than men to suffer from ACL tears, likely because of knee structure and hormonal differences. To prevent further injuries, the Hawkeye training staff began an ACL prevention program where players spend an hour each week doing plyometric exercises and strength and agility training. By learning how to properly jump, change direction, and land, the athletes reduce their chances of twisting their knees out of alignment.

Solverson, 06BA, has now worn the Iowa uniform for so long that her fellow Hawkeyes have nicknamed her "Grandma." But 27 teammates, two surgeries, and two majors since she began at Iowa, the sixth-year senior is back better than ever. This year, she joined the elite 1,000-point club, twice earned Big Ten Player of the Week honors, and guided Bluder's Bunch to a share of the conference title.

Solverson says her experiences have taught her that "nothing can keep me down, that I can always push through an obstacle." As she aims for a professional basketball career in Europe or in the WNBA, one thing's for sure — Grandma's not ready to retire.