Stronger than Ever: Austin Downing’s journey back from season-ending injury

The last year has been a long one for Austin Downing.

Rewind to December 2018. Downing, a point guard for the Quincy University basketball team, had been feeling sporadic pain in his left shoulder for several weeks. He would feel it pop every now and then, but he would play through it, not thinking much of it.

Then one day at practice, it gave on him.

“I was just fighting through a screen and then it just popped out,” Downing said. “It was a pain I’d never felt before.”

Doctors determined Downing had a torn labrum in his left shoulder and would miss the rest of the season.

After playing just five games, his junior season was over. Downing, who transferred to QU from Neosho County Community College in Kansas, felt like he had something stripped away from him.

“When they first told me, I didn’t want to believe it because I thought I had already played the number of games to where I wouldn’t be able to redshirt,” he said. “Especially with this being my first year at QU, I felt like I was letting people down by coming in as a transfer, getting hurt and not being able to play.”

Downing was able to take a medical redshirt and get his junior season back, but you can’t take back lost time, and Downing lost a lot of that with his teammates.

“When I told them what it was, they were at a loss for words,” he said. “It really sucked because I had grown close to those guys, and that’s why I committed here in the first place. I felt like I had a bond with them. I was ready. We had just finished preseason, and the hard part was out of the way. It was time to have fun. Then it just got taken away from me.

“I just tried to be there for them as much as I could still. I couldn’t really travel, but I would come to practice every day, watch every game online, text them afterwards. They were there for me and I was there for them.”

Downing (seated left-center) watches his teammates during a 2019 game. Photo courtesy Austin Downing.

Downing may have only played five games during the 2018-19 season, but head coach Ryan Hellenthal said Downing had a noticeable impact during that short time period.

“During those five games, he was the heart and soul of our team,” Hellenthal said. “We played our best basketball early in the year when he was in the lineup.”

Then when Downing got hurt?

“We really lost a source of leadership for this group,” Hellenthal said. “He was kind of the energizer. He got that team going.”

While his teammates took the court, Downing took to his recovery.

He underwent surgery on Jan. 14 and wore a sling for four to six weeks. After getting the sling removed, Downing, with the help of QU head trainer DJ Elmore, started doing rotary exercises to get the motion back in his shoulder. Once he got the motion back, Downing performed exercises with elastic bands to regain strength.

Downing exercises with elastic bands to regain the strength in his shoulder. Photo courtesy Austin Downing.

Downing said not rushing the recovery process and listening to his body helped him in the long run.

“We kind of just played it by ear,” he said. “We didn’t really say, ‘We’re gonna do this for two weeks, then this for two weeks.’ It was really just dependent on how I felt. I feel like I just did a good job of keeping ice on it, keeping up with my meds, and not pushing myself too much. I just took it one day at a time and let everything fall into place.”

Downing has also slimmed down since he arrived at Quincy last year. He is down 35 to 40 pounds since he came on his visit in early 2018.

Downing weighed around 235 pounds when he got to Quincy. Now he’s playing at 200 pounds, a goal weight he set last year. Photos courtesy Austin Downing.

Downing said a change in mindset made all the difference.

“(When I came on my visit), I was ‘giving my body a break’ or whatever,” he said. “I went on a couple vacations, you know, and I put on some weight.”

“I just focused on taking care of what I had to eat, changed my workout habits, and it just all happened. I kinda got to thinking, ‘Alright, I lost a year,’ but when I found out I was getting that year back, I was just like, ‘You take advantage of that.’ I told myself last year I wanted to come in at the lightest weight I’ve ever played at. I’ll be quicker, stronger, faster. I just locked in and stuck to something I said I was going to do.”

Momma deserves a lot of credit, though.

“My mom was the one cooking the good meals when I was losing all that weight,” Downing said. “If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have been able to do it.

“Gotta love Mom. I’ve always been a momma’s boy.”

Downing feels stronger than ever.

“I feel way better than I ever have mentally and physically,” he said. “I think everything that happened this past year has taught me a lot, and I’m ready to grow from it.”

It’s been a long time coming, but Austin Downing is back. He’s a lean, mean, basketball-playing machine.

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