UMaine’s Wheeler, Burns refuse to go down without a fight

The arrival of the new year brings with it renewed optimism — doomsday predictions for Dec. 21, 2012 notwithstanding.
As we look ahead to what 2012 might bring, all of us are hopeful that this might be the year our dreams come true.
The reality is, many of us will face continued challenges in our lives, whether with jobs, finances, health or family issues.
This dynamic struck home for me Tuesday night while covering the Husson-Southern Maine women’s basketball game at Newman Gym in Bangor.
After the game, as the players and coaches milled around with family and friends, I noticed University of Maine team members Samantha Wheeler and Rachele Burns were among them.
Both had friends playing in the game and were there to support them and say hello.
Wheeler and Burns have been shining examples of determination and optimism as they battle chronic injury issues with the Black Bears.
Wheeler, it turns out, may be approaching a premature end to her basketball career. She recently suffered a second concussion that might sideline her for good.
The Bears’ energetic senior forward had returned last fall after missing most of the 2010-11 season because of a head injury and post-concussion symptoms.
Wheeler had scarcely begun her comeback in earnest, averaging 7.3 points and 5.0 rebounds in seven games, when she was re-injured two weeks ago.
The prognosis, she said, isn’t great. Even so, she is holding onto the hope that she might be allowed back on the court again.
Wheeler’s talent — along with her intensity, energy and enthusiasm — had earned her All-America East second-team recognition during 2009-10. She has spent much of her time since then trying to remain positive and support her teammates from the bench.
Wheeler’s passion for the game and her family ties to UMaine brought her to Orono. It has been a trying experience, but hopefully she will one day look back with her health restored and realize the challenges helped her take the next step in her life.
Burns has been equally committed to pursuing her UMaine basketball career despite being plagued by knee injuries.
The smooth-shooting guard has undergone four knee surgeries, including three on the right knee, since the fall of 2008, her senior year at Gorham High School. Each time, she has recuperated, then worked her way back through rehabilitation to get on the court.
Some might think Burns is crazy to keep coming back, but it reflects her resolve and her desire to play the game she loves.
Few at UMaine have been able to witness what kind of player Burns was or might have been, since she has been hurt or rehabbing during most of her time in Orono.
Unfortunately, it isn’t a stretch to think Burns, too, might be nearing the end of the line. She has finally seen spot action in two recent games, but does not appear to have the quickness and agility she once demonstrated.
Perhaps Burns will regain more of her strength and mobility as the season progresses. However, with coach Richard Barron eager to recruit players who can help turn the UMaine program around quickly, she may wind up being displaced.
Burns and Wheeler should be applauded for their commitment, their resilience and their fight.
Neither Wheeler nor Burns should be counted out. Their competitive spirit and a little luck might help them prevail over their injury issues in 2012.

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About Pete Warner

Pete is a Bangor native who graduated from Bangor High School, Class of 1980. He earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He has been a full-time member of the Bangor Daily News Sports staff since 1984. Pete lives in Bangor with his wife of 32 years, Annia. They have two adult sons, Will and Paul. Pete is fluent in Spanish and enjoys visiting his in-laws and friends in Costa Rica. His hobbies including hunting, fishing and listening to jazz.