WHM: DiDi Richards

Since Women’s History Month (WHM) is in the month of March, and in the midst of March Madness and the NCAA national basketball tournament, I thought it was only fitting to pick a college women’s basketball player to acknowledge. On that note, let me introduce you to DiDi Richards.

Anyone who watched the Baylor vs UConn elite eight game in the tournament will know who she is, as her removal single handedly changed the outcome of the game. Baylor was up by ten with about two minutes left in the third quarter against arguably the best team in college basketball at the time. Then Richards pushed the ball up in transition and quickly picked up her dribble, causing her leg to slide and her hamstring to tighten. She left the game in clear pain and tried to return but it was obvious that she was limping and unable to continue. 

The minute she left the game, the momentum shifted and UConn went on a 19-0 run to take the lead. Richards had been tightly guarding Paige Bueckers, The Associated Press (AP) Women’s Player of the Year, which is no surprise because Richards is one of the best defenders in the country, as she has won multiple defensive player of the year awards. Bueckers took full advantage of not having Richards guarding her and immediately scored multiple baskets and gave UConn the push they needed to regain the lead. Baylor would later lose the game 67-69 on a controversial no-foul call on a last second drive by Dijonai Carrington of Baylor.

Despite being an incredible defender on one of the nation’s top teams, Richards’ journey at Baylor is truly remarkable, as she is commonly referred to as “a walking miracle.”

Richards shortly after her injury trying to walk again

On October 24th, 2020, at practice, Richards went airborne to try to intercept a pass but collided with teammate Moon Ursin and fell awkwardly. Richards stated, “When her head came in contact with my hip, it sent my spinal cord into shock.” She later added, “I got hit so hard that I eventually became unconscious for a minute or so and that’s when I came back to life and I couldn’t feel from my hips down.”

It turns out Richards had suffered a spinal cord injury without radiographic abnormality, which causes temporary impairment. It was a non-structural injury, and later referred to as “spinal shock,” but Richards was temporarily paralysed from the hips down. Many questioned if Richards would ever be able to play again. 

After much rehabilitation, help from medical staff and coaches, and self-determination, Richards was miraculously back on the court 38 days later in a game against South Florida on December 1st. Richards claims that during her recovery “her legs went from feeling numb to feeling as if a limb had fallen asleep and was waking up.”

Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey stated, “It was just so dramatic, how her legs woke up. At first, it was just seeing her stand up and walk without the walker. Then she kept getting better. One day, she snuck into a defensive drill from the sideline, and I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ And I thought, ‘She really is coming back.'”

Richards’ resilience and courageousness allowed her to go from being paralysed from the waist down to being the most influential player in one of the biggest games of the year. Her mental toughness and ability to trust her body in relearning how to simply walk again is unheard of. She embodies the strength and determination all women possess and has made WHM even more special.