Shouldering the team

Tirzah McMillan

Doctors told her it was inflamed tendon. Physical therapists told her the irritation would go away with rest and rehab. A hammer throw during track season gone wrong, and now her body is telling her otherwise.

After an MRI this past summer, junior forward, Gracie Restituyo discovered that the labrum in her right shoulder was torn. She has been playing basketball since the age of three and bloomed into a competitive threat during high school. Restituyo refused to let her injury define her or knock her down this season.

“I’ve been fighting through this for four years,” she said. “What’s another six months?”

Springfield College is her home and being on the women’s basketball team is her niche. Missing an entire season would have killed Restituyo, but she has pushed through the pain and proved everyone wrong, including herself.

At a young age Restituyo learned that being competitive would set her apart as an athlete.

Her dad and a former friend’s dad were both influential mentors when it came to cultivating her style of play. “[They] pushed me to my limits because I’ve never really been the fastest or the biggest,” Restituyo said, “normally [centers and forwards] are 6 feet and I’m only 5 foot 10, so I had to work harder to get my position.”

Their belief in her ability to succeed are what shaped her into who she is today and motivate her to keep grinding.

Restituyo was involved in a variety of other sports but basketball remained as her favorite. “I was intermixed with a bunch of other people in high school and I wasn’t always super outgoing but being a successful athlete in all three of my sports, people knew who I was,” she said. “They knew that I was going to work hard in whatever I do because I hate to lose.”

With Michael Jordan being her favorite athlete, Restituyo had hoop dreams of becoming a Tarheel and playing at UNC. Like many adolescent ballers, Restituyo admired how Jordan carried himself on the court and she realized that if she wanted to play at a collegiate level, she had to put in the time.

“I loved the sport so much that I couldn’t stop,” exclaimed Restituyo. “I always knew I wanted to play at a high level of intensity and skill [which] makes the game more fun.”

The passion Restituyo has for the game is undeniable. “I have been [around the sport] my entire life and I love it,” said Restituyo. “I love to compete. I love to be challenged and overcome a [difficult] game which is so rewarding.”

Humble and reluctant to complain, but never complacent with current circumstances, Restituyo has mixed feelings about all the attention she has recently been receiving. “I don’t really like to be the center of attention,” said Restituyo. “It’s a new place for me because I feel like people are finding out about who I am because of the success I’ve been having but it’s a grey area for me. It’s cool that our school is such a close-knit environment, that people [openly] say hi to me just because of what I’ve done.”

Restituyo also admires her coach Naomi Graves and the environment she has built at Springfield. “Coach Graves is a legend and you [can’t help] but respect her because of all she has done for basketball and the community as well,” shared Restituyo.

“She puts an emphasis on being a well-rounded athlete on the court and in the [classroom] and is always there if you need someone to talk to,” assured Restituyo. “I admire her [for her] intelligence and the plays she comes up with that are genius. She always knows what to say and how to make you feel better.”

Restituyo acknowledged that this year herself and Graves got on a personal level which resulted in a game shift for her. “My entire style of play has skyrocketed,” Restituyo explained. “Once you actually key in to what [coach] is saying and put those things into action the change is astronomical.”

Graves has been at Springfield for 27 years and has found new ways to improve the game with each coming season.

Restituyo has undeniably been a force and one of the key pieces holding the team together.

“Gracie is a tenacious defensive player and now her offensive skills have come along,” explained Graves. “Between her offense and her defense she has become a double double person which means double points, double rebounds,” she said. “She has matured as a leader, her confidence has grown, and she has become an awesome representation of who we are.”

Restituyo brings toughness and competition to the game no matter what she is going through, and Graves has taken note of it. “She is going through a lot of pain with her shoulder and no one would ever know it,” Graves stated. “Her injury is pretty significant and most people don’t play through it but she doesn’t let it hinder her. She’s having her dream season. She’s starting to peak and I’m excited.”

All Graves hopes to see for Restituyo is that she gets recognized as an impact player and can eventually help lead her team to the NEWMAC conference title. “Then at the end of the day all of that pain will be worth it because she [can say] she had an awesome season and the team that she’s playing with had an awesome year,” said Graves. “And that makes it all worth it.”  

Outside of the athletic realm, Restituyo has a softer side that her roommate Sam Spadaro and teammate Molly Altholz greatly appreciate.

“She’s headstrong and motivated with a down-to-earth side that [people] don’t usually see from the surface because she’s so driven,” said Spadaro. “She has given me someone that I can rely on,” Spadaro stated.

Altholz echoed Spadaro.

“[Restituyo] is someone that everyone can go to, they listen to her,” said Altholz. “She’s really trustworthy and a great person. “She won’t give up on anything. She’s one of those friends and teammates that you cherish throughout your life who will always be there for you.”

Their bond and energy enable them to strengthen their friendship and their communication skills simultaneously. It takes time, but the tres amigas are finding the perfect balance between love and basketball.

“Struggling through this injury on a daily basis sometimes really gets me down but I also know that my teammates are right there behind me supporting me,” exclaimed Restituyo.

She plans to get surgery after her season ends, but will continue to push her hardest with no complaints.

“I have opened up more to cheering for my teammates so that if I can’t be in that drill the least I can do for them is cheer them on while they are struggling,” said Restituyo. “I want to struggle with my team, especially if we have to sprint because of [mistakes made] in a drill that I participated in.”

Restituyo is a hard-working woman that does not allow the outside world affect how she performs. “My work ethic is something I think my team values because I’m going to give 100 percent every day no matter what my 100 percent is, I’m going to give you my all,” said Restituyo confidently.

Besides her life-long love for the sport, defense is Restituyo’s favorite part of the game. “Defense is all about working hard,” she declared. “I would much rather dive for a loose ball then hit an open three. I don’t have the greatest skills in my hands but I work hard every day and you can see where it’s gotten me.”

Restituyo intends to make the most of this season despite the pain she has had to endure. “I plan to play as best as I can and I have been averaging double doubles but it is nothing that I ever expect,” assured Restituyo humbly. “I measure my success based on how my defense went and how many rebounds I get [during] the game.”

Seeing 15 rebounds satisfies the star forward far more than seeing 15 points on the scoreboard.

“Just keeping up with my work ethic and helping my team [increase] the chances of getting a win [are my goals for this season],” she said.

Her aspirations do not stop there.

“Next season I would love to become faster so that I can expand my game and get out on the perimeter on defense and be able to hold my own with guards,” explained Restituyo.

With the remainder of this season and one year left to go, Restituyo wants to be remembered as more than what meets the eye.

“The legacy I want to leave is that I was unselfish and there when people needed me,” described Restituyo. “I thrive off of helping other people which is why I want to become a [physician’s assistant with a specialty in orthopedics],” she said. “I’ll get to help athletes improve and what’s better than that?”  

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