NORTHBROOK, Ill. (BVM) – Overcoming an injury, let alone an ACL tear, is not an easy feat. Even tougher is having to do it twice, and that’s what happened to Brooke Blumenfeld.
Blumenfeld’s basketball journey started out quite well. She was introduced to the game by her father, and grew a passion for the sport as her dad coached her.
“My dad was the one who got me involved with it and I loved having him as a coach,” Blumenfeld said.
Blumenfeld’s youth team went around two years without losing a game according to the basketball standout, as they were the “team to beat” in the area. As Blumenfeld reached middle school, she realized basketball was her future.
“In sixth grade, I knew I wanted to play Division I basketball,” Blumenfeld mentioned. “I had my mind set on it. There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to go to a Division I school. There wasn’t really any other plan.”
The 6-foot standout continued to develop her game as she reached the end of her middle school career. At that point, her future looked as bright as possible.
“The way I was playing, the work I put in to perform the way I did, I knew no one else was doing that,” Blumenfeld said. “That just showed on the court.”
However, playing in an AAU game during her eighth grade year, everything changed. As Blumenfeld executed a Euro step, she landed awkwardly.
“It just felt like my knee kind of popped in and out,” Blumenfeld said. “I really didn’t know what an ACL was at the time. The only thing that I can really recall from that is that I was just so devastated because I was never going to get any offers now and it just ruined me.”
A brutal blow when everything had been going right, Blumenfeld’s injury was more devastating than most. While she performed well during her recovery to get back on the court, the initial stages without basketball were tough.
“Through my recovery, I couldn’t do what I loved,” Blumenfeld said. “It really did take a toll on me, especially my mental health. I was sad, and as an eighth grader I was thinking my life was over.”
After a long road back, Blumenfeld would return to the floor. Early into her freshman year at Glenbrook North, she was promoted to varsity, averaging around eight points per game.
“I worked really hard to get back in the gym, to get everything back,” Blumenfeld added.
However, by the summer, it was clear she had made a full comeback. Playing AAU basketball with Wolverinas, Blumenfeld took her game to the next level. At that point, her dream of playing Division I basketball was back.
“If I didn’t join them, I would not be a Division I basketball player at all,” Blumenfeld said. “When I joined that team, I was surrounded by these amazing athletes that could do so much more than I’ve ever seen anyone do. I was like, ‘Holy cow, this is where I need to be.’ I realized if I want to take it to the next level, this can get me there.”
Playing more out on the perimeter during the AAU season, adding to an already dominant post game, Blumenfeld was set for a spectacular sophomore season with Glenbrook North. She averaged a conference–best 15.1 points in 2019-20, also racking up seven rebounds a contest and compiling 49 blocks over the course of the season.
The play of the 6-foot forward would help the Spartans have their best season since the 1992-93 campaign, as they competed in the regional final for the first time in two decades. Blumenfeld finished the season as team MVP as well as an all-conference and all-area player.
“It was a great feeling to kind of see where I’d come from and how that impacted my team,” Blumenfeld said. “I started to get recognition from newspapers and all these different sources. After my high school season, my recruiting really blew up.”
Blumenfeld’s first offer came from Northern Illinois, and she began receiving interest from many schools. But just as everything was going right again, heartbreak struck.
Playing with Wolverinas over the summer of 2020, Blumenfeld was shining. Coming off a double-digit scoring game earlier in the day, Blumenfeld was just seconds into the next game of the day when everything changed.
“I was in the best spot and I was really happy with where I was, excited for the future,” Blumenfeld said. “But 10 seconds into the next game in the tournament, I cut across the lane to the right block, my teammate saw me, threw the ball and I caught it. I was going up for a right hand layup, but I didn’t even get up. I just felt my right knee kind of twist and give out. It hurt a lot, but I didn’t think it was my ACL.”
Trainers at the tournament did not believe Brooke had injured her ACL either. However, doctors back home would have a different opinion, confirming the 17-year-old’s worst fear.
“I was in my mom’s car, and she stepped out of the car when she got the call from the doctor,” Blumenfeld said. “I saw her and I heard what her response was to the doctor, and I knew it was my ACL. I remember tearing up and I freaked out. It was the worst moment in my life. I’ll never forget that day and that moment.”
Knowing how much work she would have to put in to get back again, the Glenbrook North standout was understandably devastated, especially with what was ahead on the horizon.
“I was in my bed for a few days just wondering why did this happen to me,” Blumenfeld said. “I’ve been through this before, why do I have to do it again … I worked so hard to get to where I was. I was about to get a bunch of offers, and it just slipped away in one second.”
Making things even tougher was the fact that Blumenfeld had to call many college coaches to inform them of the devastating news. However, she never once considered hanging up her sneakers and moving on from basketball. After her surgery, she was determined to get back on the court.
Just wanting to play, Blumenfeld had to be patient to make her return, getting differing opinions from therapists, doctors and family. She also had to learn to trust her knee again on the court, just as she did a few years back. The recovery process wasn’t easy, as Blumenfeld admits she would come home some days crying.
She would go on to miss a Covid-shortened season at Glenbrook North in 2021, and the Spartans predictably struggled without her.
“It was definitely hard to watch from the sidelines,” Blumenfeld said. “I just wanted to hop back in and help them, it was really frustrating.”
Still, Blumenfeld stuck with her team, attending as many practices and games as she could. By the summer, she made her long-awaited return to the court on the AAU circuit. However, having to play with a bulky knee brace and still getting her footing back, basketball just wasn’t what it used to be.
“Getting back was really hard,” Blumenfeld said. “My feet weren’t as fast, it took a while to feel comfortable with that huge metal brace on my leg. It wasn’t the same … It was really frustrating.”
Yet, just as she did back in eighth grade, the Glenbrook North senior worked her way back, getting better each time she took the hardwood. By the early winter, Blumenfeld was ready to shine for the Spartans once again.
“It really did take a lot of work, I had a great support system,” Blumenfeld added. “I played my senior season, it was great.”
Blumenfeld went on to average around 18 points as a senior, bettering her pre-injury sophomore season. However, perhaps the biggest moment of the season – and one of the greatest points of her comeback story – was becoming a 1,000-point scorer in late January. She is just the second girl in program history to hit that mark.
— Glenbrook North High School Athletics (@GBN_Athletics) January 29, 2022
“I remember I had eight points to 1,000,” Blumenfeld said. “I was just so nervous … The shot I hit was over a really tall girl. Just hitting that was a relief for me. This is something that high school girls do in four years. I did it in two. This was a huge goal for me and to hit that was just amazing. It was definitely a moment I’ll never forget.
“Every game, we battled really hard. I played my heart out every game, trying to do everything I could to help us win. Just being a part of GBN basketball was amazing.”
The other important chapter of Blumenfeld’s comeback story came prior to her senior season, as she officially committed to Northern Illinois University (NIU), achieving her dream of reaching the DI level.
— Brooke Blumenfeld (@Brooke_blume) June 26, 2021
“They were the first ones to offer me and that meant a lot to me,” Blumenfeld said. “When everything came down, they were like, ‘Your offer isn’t going anywhere.’ NIU stuck with me through the whole nine months. They called me every week, they were with me through the whole thing. That’s something that I’ll never forget. They believed in me when no one else did.”
In the many months since she tore an ACL for the second time, Blumenfeld’s story has gotten noticed. But last month, her story was honored in one of the most spectacular fashions she could dream of. On March 4, during the Chicago Bulls’ matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks, Blumenfeld had her story honored at halftime on the jumbotron of the United Center.
“I didn’t know about it until the day we got there,” Blumenfeld said. “My mom had been planning it for quite a long time. We got there, we went to this different entrance and were waiting for someone … She took us down to the court, and we got on the court, and there’s Giannis shooting free throws, and I was just in awe. Then she took us to the Bulls’ side and Ayo Dosunmu was the first one to come out and we saw him warm up live. My jaw was just like hanging the whole time, it was unreal, I was literally shaking.”
Soon after, Blumenfeld noticed someone videotaping parts of her experience. Then came the realization she’d be honored at halftime.
Congratulations to @Brooke_blume and the team for being honored by the Chicago Bulls for Woman's History Month
— GBN Girls Varsity Basketball (@GBNGirlsBball) March 6, 2022
“They told me that this was going to play at halftime and that I’d be brought out in the center of the court,” Blumenfeld added. “For my story to be told in front of thousands of people, that was amazing.”
So too was the next opportunity Blumenfeld had, getting to meet and interact with Bulls’ forward Patrick Williams.
AMAZING EXPERIENCE!❤️ https://t.co/xgakW4kdEB
— Brooke Blumenfeld (@Brooke_blume) March 31, 2022
“I was speechless,” Blumenfeld said. “I just stood up, shook his hand, and he’s like, ‘Hey, nice to meet you. I heard about your story. Congrats on 1,000 points, that was amazing and to come back from an injury like that makes it even better.’ We watched my highlights from sophomore year … He just kept congratulating me on everything and it was amazing. For the Bulls and Patrick Williams to recognize that, that was insane.”
Blumenfeld has had more and more people reaching out and noticing her incredible story since that night in March. Soon, she will begin the next chapter of her comeback at NIU, continuing to write a story that can inspire anyone.
“It’s the right place for me, I’m really excited to play there,” Blumenfeld said. “I’m ready to work and see what I can do for the team.
“Obviously tearing one ACL is horrible. People struggle with that, and I’ve done it twice and I tore the second one at the worst time possible. I just feel like if people hear my story that are going through a similar injury, they can see that you can do it. You can overcome anything, but you have to want it and be willing to put in the work. The recovery, the road ahead is going to be hard, it’s going to be long. But at the end, it will be so worth it when you come back and you get to step foot on the court or the field again for the first time.”