Pain is a regular part of Fagan’s game face |

Pain is a regular part of Fagan’s game face

People talk about taking things in stride, but Whittell High School senior Caitlin Fagan is taking the hand she was dealt, and – literally – playing it.

Fagan’s hand isn’t the concern, though. Her left hip is. Every time she takes the court – where she’s the most experienced player and leading scorer on the Warriors girls basketball team – or the field – where she achieved 3A all-state status as a midfielder on Whittell’s state-quarterfinal soccer squad – she’s playing her hand and playing on a hip joint that’s breaking down.

“It’s not going to do me any good to complain, so I just deal with it, and try my hardest,” Fagan said. “I just love sports, and I didn’t want to give this up for something I’m going to have to deal with anyway.”

Fagan found out last March, during spring soccer, the pains in her hip are the result of dysplasia in her left hip. That keeps the ball of her left femur from lining up with the socket in her hip bone, which in turn means pain for every step on the basketball court or soccer field; even more pain for every dive after a lost ball or slide tackle.

But watching Fagan play reveals no more clues than the occasional grimace after a hard knock, or a few trips to the bench. If that makes her a hard read on the court, it gets a little easier when the game is over. Her father, Pat Fagan, said his daughter never complains after the game.

“She’s got a lot of heart, and I respect her for that,” Pat said. “I guess I am amazed, but she’s a hard worker, she’s a team player and she’s committed to (playing). And if she’s committed to something, she usually follows through with it.”

Consider this year, when Caitlin is playing fall soccer, winter basketball and softball in the spring, a primer in following through. Doctors discovered the recurrent ache in Fagan’s hip was dysplasia, and suggested she have surgery to correct it. That would mean a recovery that would slow her considerably for six months to a year. After Fagan and her parents, Pat and Kay, explored their options and found out she could continue to play sports for the duration of her high school career without irreparably damaging her hip joint, they decided to put off the operation.

“We talked about it and we talked with the doctors, and it was, a lot, up to me,” Fagan said.

She decided to delay the operation until June, 2001, until after her high school career was over.

“It was hard,” she said. “It was easy knowing I wanted to play, but it was hard knowing if I should or not, if it was the best thing or not.”

Fagan doesn’t take any pain relievers for her hip. She generates her own, though, in the form of the adrenaline jolt she gets on the basketball court. But because she doesn’t complain or use anything to dull the pain, that masks the courage of her endeavors.

“Because she doesn’t complain about it, I’m not sure how many girls realize how much pain she’s in,” said Whittell head coach Lindsay Wines. “She comes in day-in and day-out, and she plays hard.”

Occasionally, Wines takes Fagan out of the game to minimize the damage, as she did after a hard collision in Tuesday’s game against Manogue. But Fagan puts herself back in quickly.

“It just says a lot about her as a kid,” Wines said.

Fagan will skip spring soccer this season to return to softball – which involves less repetitive movement of the joint, and is easier on it – a sport she played as a freshman. After that, she’ll return to Shriners Hospital in Sacramento for a progress report, she hopes, to confirm she can delay the surgery.

Whatever happens with the hip, though, Fagan’s attitude sounds unassailably healthy.

“I basically just have to live with it,” she said.

But obviously, living with it isn’t slowing Fagan down.

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