For years, Isabella and Ava Therien have competed together and against each other in basketball, lacrosse and soccer. Their sisterly rivalry even extends to ice skating.
Asked to grade her ice skating skills, Ava Therien, a 20-year-old sophomore guard for the Loyola Maryland women’s basketball program, gave herself a 6 ½ out of 10 and admitted, “Going backward on skates, I would say that I’m a 1. I’m just not very good going backward.”
Isabella Therien, a 22-year-old senior forward also with the Greyhounds, rated her ice skating as “a solid” 8 ½ — “forward and backward,” she insisted.
That drew a strenuous objection from Ava. “I haven’t seen her on skates in four years,” she said. “She probably doesn’t even remember how to skate anymore.”
Ice skating would seem to be inherently genetic for the Therien sisters considering their father, Chris Therien, played 13 years in the NHL for the Philadelphia Flyers and the Dallas Stars and was a member of the Canadian national team that won the silver medal at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.
Ice skating aside, it certainly appears that the athletic bloodline is strong and vibrant. The Therien sisters are solid contributors for Loyola, especially Isabella, who leads the team this season in scoring (12.3 points per game), rebounds (7.3) and steals (1.3) and ranks second in minutes played (31.0).
The Greyhounds (0-12, 0-6 Patriot League’s South Division) are the No. 8 seed in the conference tournament and will seek their first win against top-seeded Bucknell in Sunday’s quarterfinal round.
Having an athletically gifted and decorated father would usually be enough for any child to brag. And while the Therien sisters are proud of the family name, they also are fully aware of the burden their father carried away from the prying eyes of the public and media: an addiction to alcohol.
Last month, Chris Therien celebrated 10 years of sobriety via social media, which drew praise from former NHL forward Jeremy Roenick, a Flyers teammate, and fans who remembered when he was a first-line defenseman for a team led by the famed “Legion of Doom” line of Eric Lindros, John LeClair and Mikael Renberg.
Therien, who recently joined three business partners in purchasing a rehabilitation center in Philadelphia to help others battling alcohol and drug abuse, characterized the decision to overcome alcoholism as an achievement that rivaled his athletic accomplishments.
“I was an Olympian, I played in the NHL for a long time, but being able to conquer something like this is quite a feat at the end of the day,” he said. “And now I have an opportunity with my new center to help some people and maybe change some lives and give back.”
Therien said his self-described identity as “a moderate social drinker” took a turn for the worse in 2004 when the NHL and the players became embroiled in a labor dispute that canceled the 2004-05 season. Isabella, the oldest of four children born to Chris and Diana Therien, was about 6 years old at the time, but remembers her father developing “The Eye” after indulging in wine. She and her sisters avoided inviting friends over to the house during those times.
“I’m not going to lie: there were times that were extremely hard for my family and me, to see what was happening to him,” Isabella Therien said. “I was talking to my mom the other day, and she told me, ‘There was a point when I said, ‘I may have to raise these four kids on my own.’ That’s something that was really scary. There was only so much that we could do to bring him back. He had to take a look in the mirror and ask himself, ‘What am I going to choose? Am I going to choose my family or am I going to choose the bottle?’”
The sisters said the lowest point was the sudden death of their father’s sister, Sarah, due to a heart issue in 2006.
“The passing of his sister — as it would anybody — threw him off,” Ava Therien said. “I do remember after that, he got help, and I remember my mom coming into my room at night and she was like, ‘Make sure you guys say your prayers for your dad because this isn’t going to be an easy time for him.’ And I remember every night saying, ‘Our Father, please take care of my dad.’”
Chris Therien entered rehab in July 2006 and then relapsed later. Then in Feb. 2011, he said he made the decision to kick his addiction for the sake of his family.
“I was a conscious alcoholic to where I knew that my drinking was not normal. There was nothing normal about it,” he said. “So I was just like, ‘OK, you’ve got an ailment, and now you’ve got to fix it.’ Was it easy at first? No, it was not. You’ve got to put the time in, and you’ve got to find a way to get through, especially in early recovery. But the gifts that come afterward when you make those decisions are endless.”
Neither Therien sister can recall the first sign of a sea change in the family’s home in Marlton, New Jersey. But Isabella Therien described it as “a breath of fresh air,” and Ava Therien said, “The household started to light up again.”
“If he kept drinking at the pace that he was drinking, he would have died,” Isabella Therien said. “That’s just the reality of the situation.”
Ava Therien said her father’s transformation has been dramatic.
“He loves people,” she said. “But when he was drinking, he wasn’t a people person, and that’s kind of how I knew him growing up. I was like, ‘Well, I don’t want this person to come over because dad is like this.’ But now our house is where everyone goes. Our dad talks to our friends, loves to hang out with us and our friends. He’s my dad, but at the same time, he’s my friend. I can go to him about anything. He can make anybody laugh. Before he got sober, he wasn’t like how he is now.”
Chris Therien said his passion is growing Limitless Recovery Center of which he is the chief wellness officer and serving the community. Ava Therien said her father’s enthusiasm is infectious.
“He’s really dedicated to this new project of opening up rehab centers, and he loves the city of Philadelphia,” she said. “This is where we grew up, and he feels like this is his duty, to give back to the city because for the past 25 years, the city has given him nothing but love even though they didn’t know what was going on behind closed doors.”
Chris Therien said ridding his life of alcohol has given him more time to spend with his wife, three daughters, including 17-year-old Alexa, a high school senior, and one son, 14-year-old Christopher, an eighth grader.
“We could go to the pool and play ‘Follow the leader,’” he said. “I could coach my son’s hockey team. I could talk to my girls about how they were playing in basketball and have credibility with them. I could say, ‘I think there’s another gear to your game,’ and they would respect that. If I was drinking and stuff, they would say, ‘Well, Dad’s just drinking. No one wants to hear that.’”
One of the Therien family’s favorite activities was traveling to Baltimore to watch Isabella and Ava play basketball at Loyola before the coronavirus pandemic halted fan attendance. The other disappointment is that injuries and ailments have allowed the sisters to play together in only two games.
Three different stress fractures in her right and left femurs sidelined Isabella Therien for parts of each of her last three seasons. Two months ago, Ava Therien was diagnosed with myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, and must undergo further testing for a few more months.
Greyhounds coach Joe Logan said he can sense the sisters’ regret.
“I think it killed Ava last year when Izzy was out, and it kills Izzy right now when Ava is out because they truly care very deeply about each other,” he said. “They’re close, and as a coach when I tell the players that you have to have each other’s backs on the court and you have to play together as one, I think they would be an incredible example of that. They are that in practice and in life, but I think if the team could see them on the court doing those things, that would only help us.”
Even if they can’t play together, the sisters said going to classes, living in apartment buildings near each other (Ava Therien can peer into Isabella’s bedroom from hers and vice versa), and piling into one car for practices will suffice.
“If I had broken both of my femurs, I would have just retired,” Ava Therien said. “But Isabella is kind of like my dad. She’s not going to do anything halfhearted. She’s going to give it her all, and if her femur breaks, she’s like, ‘Whatever.’ I’m really proud of her and everything that she’s overcome.”
Isabella Therien said she and her sister talk after every game, reviewing her triumphs and mistakes.
“I’ll say, ‘Ava, I can’t make a shot,’ and she’ll say, ‘Isabella, you’re still the best. Don’t worry about it,’” she said. “She’s always supporting me and telling me that I’m OK. … She’s kind of like my hype man, and I really do need that some days.”
This could be the final year for the sisters. Isabella Therien is on pace to graduate in May with a bachelor’s in finance and is uncertain whether she will use an extra year of eligibility. She joked that she is looking forward to nights when she no longer has to cook enough dinner to feed her roommate, senior forwardDelaney Connolly, Ava, and her roommate, sophomore guard Bri Rozzi.
“Sometimes I would say [we are] a little too close,” she quipped. “But it’s awesome. I cannot complain. I don’t think too many people can say that they got to play Division I basketball with their sister.”
Ava Therien countered that she will get the car after her sister leaves.
“But right now, I’m attached to Isabella at the hip,” said Ava, who is majoring in communications and minoring in marketing. “Wherever she goes, I’m kind of right behind her. To be honest with you, I’m hoping that she stays. As much as I want my own car here, I want my sister more.”