SHERIDAN — It had been a long 10 years since Lindsay Heimkes was last on the floor at the Bruce Hoffman Golden Dome.
The year 2007 was supposed to be an exciting one for Heimkes. She would have been deep into her sophomore basketball season at Sheridan College, wrapping up the regular season and prepping to lead the Lady Generals deep into the postseason.
Sheridan head coach Frank McCarthy called the All-Region honoree the best player on the team during her freshman season, so she was poised to turn even more heads in season number two.
But it never came.
Heimkes was severely injured in a car accident the summer between the two seasons as she and two friends traveled from Wyoming to Kansas City for a summer showcase. The vehicle rolled multiple times, tossing Heimkes from the car and leaving her with a serious spinal cord injury.
So when the basketball star returned to the Golden Dome on Feb. 3, 2007, she returned not as a player, but as an inspiration.
She went from a breathing tube — one that doctors expected her to have for life — to breathing on her own and regaining some use in her arms. Her perseverance even earned her the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Hero in the Making award in 2013.
And while that return trip to Sheridan was an emotional and beneficial one for Heimkes — proceeds from the game’s ticket sales went to Heimkes and her family — it would be the last time she’d be surrounded by Lady Generals players and fans for a decade.
But Heimkes got a call from her former coach earlier this season. McCarthy, who announced in the fall that the 2016-17 season would be his last at Sheridan College, wanted to keep a tradition going.
Shortly after Heimkes’ accident, McCarthy and the SC athletics department began honoring Sheridan College students with the Lindsay Heimkes Inspiration Award. A handful of names are etched into a plaque, names of students who have overcome various challenges in pursuit of a higher education.
McCarthy wants to keep the award going even after he is gone, and he wanted to bring Heimkes back to present the award this year.
So on Saturday, Feb. 11 — 10 years and eight days after she last came to the gym she once lit up with her jump shot — Heimkes returned.
“It’s been a long time,” she said. “We probably should have done it more often, but I think it was even more important because it’s coach’s last year, and it was great to get everyone together.”
It was more than just an award presentation for McCarthy and the Lady Generals, though. McCarthy wanted to recognize Heimkes for her dedication and hard work to get better.
He wanted to teach his players and members of the Sheridan community that life throws curve balls, and the handling of those curve balls defines us.
“What a great attitude she has,” McCarthy said. “Even when things aren’t going well, she’s always got a smile on her face.”
And for Heimkes, it was an opportunity to bond with a group of players that aren’t much unlike she was 11 years ago.
McCarthy asked his former star to speak to the team before its game against Miles Community College. Heimkes, not really one for the spotlight, was reluctant at first. But after about a half hour of pondering her coach’s proposition, she responded via text.
“Coach I’d like to do it,” she said. “I think I’ve got a good message I’d like to deliver.”
What was that message? Well, it was a simple one, but one she’s engrained into to her own life for more than a decade.
“Live each day to the fullest,” she told the team before Saturday’s game. “I just said a few words that go along with basketball and in life.”
Aside from the pregame speeches and halftime award presentations, the return to the Golden Dome was a reunion for Heimkes and the 2006 Lady Generals. She made the 12-hour trip from Idaho with her parents, and former players traveled from all over — Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming — to share the court with their teammate once more.
Molly Trocha, Paige Vickrey and Amy Fullmer sat courtside with Heimkes, taking in the Lady Generals game against Miles and sharing laughs and memories of “the good old days.”
“It’s like nothing has changed,” Fullmer said. “We bring up old times and laugh and talk and have good memories. We love it. We love Sheridan.”
“It was a good time when we were here,” Heimkes added before Vickrey chimed in.
“We always used to say, ‘SC for life,’” she said with a laugh.
Though Vickrey chuckled at the old phrase her crew used to throw around, it wasn’t really a joke. The group loved their time together at Sheridan College, a bond they said was formed on the basketball court.
Quriss Romero, the recipient of this year’s Lindsay Heimkes Inspiration Award, echoed the sentiments of the former Lady Generals.
Romero was a member of the SC women’s basketball team a year ago and overcame some adversity in her life, stayed in school, helped the team and plans to graduate with a 3.0 GPA in the spring.
“It’s just a blessing to say, like they were saying, ‘SC for life,’” Romero said. “Everyone that comes here and plays here loves it. It’s nice to be able to say you went to school at Sheridan.”
It was an exciting day for Lady Generals basketball. The team lost a tough battle with Miles on the court, but it was overshadowed by the positivity Heimkes and her family brought to the gym.
As McCarthy departs for the next stage in his life and Heimkes and her teammates return to their everyday lives hundreds of miles away, the group hopes the award carries on in Heimkes’ name and less than 10 years go by before they’re reunited again at the Golden Dome.
“It’s like coach’s message before the game,” Vickrey said. “A lot of times we like to win, but it’s not necessarily about the wins and losses. It’s about the relationships you make along the way. And that’s what it comes down to for us.”