By Dana O'Neil | ESPN.com
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The road back is not a short one; it's stretched along a timetable that could reach as long as eight months.
Kevin Ware doesn't really see it that way, though. The Louisville player who redefined resilience and optimism during the NCAA tournament is taking the same glass-half-full approach to his rehab.
“I look at it all as motivation," he said. “You can’t finish until you get started.’’
And so Ware is taking baby steps, literally and figuratively, on his right leg, which was brutally fractured during the Cardinals’ win over Duke in the Midwest Regional final on March 31. Just five weeks removed from surgery, he is riding a stationary bike and slowly increasing the amount of pressure and weight he can add to his right side.
Kevin Ware's life has dramatically changed since he broke his leg in the NCAA tournament.
Soon his scar should be healed, which will mean he can get to work even more, building up strength in his quad to help carry his leg.
Ware finished up classes last week, and after hanging around town for the Kentucky Derby, he planned to head back home to Atlanta for a short visit and return immediately to Louisville. Once he’s in town, he and athletic trainer Fred Hina will spend lots of quality time together.
Strange as it sounds, Ware is lucky. As gruesome as his injury was, he didn't tear any ligaments, which makes the road back much more straightforward.
So far, Ware’s mental outlook is good -- “I feel like as long as I don’t see the video [replaying the injury], I’ll be fine," he said -- but he’s not kidding himself. Ask any athlete who has been through a long rehab and they will tell you that it is a lonely path, filled with frustrating steps backward and equally difficult plateaus.
Ware has been the toast of the town since his injury, appearing on countless national TV programs, feted by fans and even scoring an invite to the prestigious White House Correspondents' Dinner.
But soon enough, it will be just him and Hina in a room working to get better.
“I’m sure the hard days are coming,’’ he said. “I know they are. But I think I’m a lot stronger now to handle them.’’
Indeed, if anything good has come out of all this, it is Ware’s new sense of self. Once quiet and shy publicly, he has blossomed under the glare of the spotlight. He’s spoken often and eloquently about the determination he fed Louisville en route to its national championship, his strength and selflessness applauded from all corners.
He was stunned to get the ticket to the Correspondents' Dinner, an event filled with media personalities, celebrities and, of course, the president.
Ware admits to being more than a little starstruck at the number of famous people he rubbed elbows with. Though he admits to being lousy with names and couldn't remember everyone, he did say he got to meet U.S. Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas and Willie Robertson of "Duck Dynasty."
Ware also was impressed, he said, with President Obama’s sense of humor -- "I didn't know he was that funny," Ware said -- but left Washington slightly mystified by the number of people who wanted to talk to him.
And more, who knew him.
“I met a lot of famous people, but they were all like, ‘We know you. We want to talk to you,'" Ware said. “I was like, really? That was crazy.’’
That’s really been the wildest part of this entire roller-coaster ride, Ware said -- all of the attention he’s received because of an injury.
“I didn't know how popular I would become just because I broke my leg,’’ he said. “I always wanted to be someone that people would look up to, but I never thought it would happen because I broke my leg.’’
Of course, it’s more than that. The reaction is as much due to how Ware handled himself in the immediate seconds after the injury as it is the horrific injury itself. His strength and resolve to call his teammates over, coupled with the fact that Louisville went on to win the national title, is the sort of story people can wrap their arms around and appreciate.
But now comes the hard part. With no one watching and no one talking about him, it’s up to Ware.
“I’m stronger now,’’ he said. “I can do this.’’