Devan Hibbs' lacrosse career was supposed to be over. As she lay motionless in a hospital bed, just hours after two foot-long rods and 12 screws were inserted into her back to prevent scoliosis from damaging her vital organs, Hibbs' body was swollen beyond recognition.
"It looked like she had just been in a terrible car accident," said Dave Hibbs, Devan's father. "It was that serious. I never imagined she'd be able to play again. We just hoped she'd be able to recover and live a normal life."
At age 13, Hibbs was diagnosed with scoliosis. And although she didn't think it would affect her career, each year the disease progressed. After she played in eight games during her freshman season at UMBC in 2010, doctors discovered that the S-shaped curve in her spine had worsened by 30 degrees since her initial diagnosis.
For Hibbs, the pain had become too much. Surgery was her only option. However, Hibbs was told that nobody had ever come back to play an NCAA Division I sport after a 13-level spinal fusion.
"I was always very determined," Hibbs said. "I've never quit anything I've done. I've just taken it one day at a time and leaned on the people around me for support."
Growing up, Hibbs, a native of Downingtown, Pa., didn't even want to be a lacrosse player. Her parents invested thousands of dollars in her soccer career, sending her to high-profile tournaments throughout the nation, only for her to get burned out before it was time to accept one of her several scholarship offers during her junior year of high school.
At the time, Hibbs was playing lacrosse at Downingtown West High and sporadically on a club team during the summer when she wasn't playing soccer. Her decision to play lacrosse in college came late in the recruiting process, after many other top prospects had committed. But after impressing coaches at a recruiting tournament at Towson prior to her senior season, she landed in Catonsville.
Hibbs didn't think to tell her coaches scoliosis could wreak havoc on her career.
"I had been playing with it for so long," Hibbs said. "I was so used to it. I was so young when it was discovered, and I never thought surgery would be an option."
After the surgery, Hibbs returned to school but was hardly able to make her way around campus. Her teammates carried her books from class to class, helping her stay on track academically. Her rehabilitation took 13 months, forcing her to redshirt her sophomore season.
The next fall, Hibbs made it back on the field. She started 16 games on defense that season, finishing second on the Retrievers with 11 caused turnovers. In 2013, Hibbs was named team captain and started every game.
But she would have another setback.
After a loss to Towson on Feb. 19 this year, Hibbs was diagnosed with a stress fracture in her back that was causing nerve damage to her leg. Initially, doctors told her she couldn't play lacrosse again, because further damage to the fracture could cause injury to her spinal cord.
Hibbs sought a second opinion. The fracture was deemed an old injury that occurred before the surgery, which meant Hibbs could return for her final games at UMBC. Regardless, Hibbs said her injuries have prevented her from fulfilling her full potential.
"I was limited in only being able to play half-practices," Hibbs said. "Some of my teammates had to do extra reps in practice, but I just had to be honest with the coaching staff when I felt like I couldn't do it anymore."
On Saturday, Hibbs will play her final game at UMBC when the Retrievers visit Binghamton in the season finale, but her injury will follow her into her next career as well. Hibbs has been studying to be a nurse and has concerns her back injury could inhibit her ability to stand for an entire shift.
She fully intends to overcome adversity one more time.
"I'll definitely be in pain, probably forever," Hibbs said. "Just because of the amount of pressure and strain on my back. It's definitely not going to be easy. But it's just another challenge. If it's something that I really want to do, then I'll find a way."
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