January 17, 2005 11:00 pm
BACK IN BLUE: La Grande senior Chris Lowry is averaging 7.6 points per game. (The Observer/TONY ADAME).
BACK IN BLUE: La Grande senior Chris Lowry is averaging 7.6 points per game. (The Observer/TONY ADAME).

By Tony Adame

The toughest athlete I've ever been around was a girl who played point guard at my high school, Wichita (Kan.) Northwest.

The girl, Morgan O'Hara, tore her anterior cruciate ligament twice during a stellar career at Kent State University. Right knee first, her freshman year, then the left knee her junior year.

Both times O'Hara flew to Quebec for experimental reconstructive surgery, and both times she returned to play in the NCAA tournament a little over a month later.

That's tough.

It's a toughness that comes from an innate love of competition. It's a toughness that Chris Lowry is all too familiar with.

Lowry, a senior basketball player at La Grande High School, has missed all or parts of the last two seasons with ACL tears in his right knee.

This season, however, he is a key part of an LHS team with it's sights set on a Greater Oregon League championship.

"We really missed him," La Grande head coach Aaron Mills said. "He's a leader who understands the team concept. With him we're a different squad.

"Chris doesn't accept it when things aren't being done right but manages to stay positive. He cares about the little things."

Lowry's journey started on Jan. 16, 2003. It was his sophomore year and a day he remembers vividly, as it would serve as his main motivation for the next two years.

"We were in Fruitland and I'd just been told that I was going to be full time varsity," Lowry said. "And that night I tore it. No contact or anything. I just came down wrong."

Lowry had surgery to repair the knee in February and, with rehabilitation, started playing again two-and-a-half months later with a doctor's permission.

Then, the unthinkable happened.

On Oct. 6, 2003, Lowry was playing in a pickup game and tore his right ACL again. This time, he also tore his miniscus.

"I was there when it happened the second time," said Rick Anderson, Lowry's teammate since the sixth grade. "It was really emotional. I thought he was probably done for. I mean, twice?"

Lowry had surgery to repair the knee on Oct. 19. His junior season was gone. Now, staring down the prospect of another round of grueling rehab, he had a decision to make.

In the end, the desire to play trumped any doubts he had about his knee.

"My parents both supported me 100 percent," Lowry said. "But my mom was a little worried about me getting hurt again. Mostly, I just thought about being a varsity basketball player, about the taste I had of that glory.

"Then I put my faith in God and he helped me get through it."

Fast forward one year. Lowry has returned to the Tigers this season as a full time starter, averaging 7.6 points per game. All that remains as a reminder of the injuries is a sleeve Lowry wears over his right knee when he plays.

"He really loves basketball," Anderson said. "You would have to with what he's been through. He's been a big asset to the team this year."

Mills echoed the sentiment.

"Defensively, having him back on the court has been great," Mills said. "He's just a great kid to have around. What else can I say?"

Lowry says the return has been easier than he expected on his body.

"I thought there'd be a lot more pain then there has been," Lowry said. "It hurts a bit after practice, but not after games.

"This year has been fun, more fun than I probably could have ever dreamed of."

It's a dream that Lowry could have easily given up on a long time ago and nobody would've thought the less of him, but he didn't.

That's tough.

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