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The Long Road to Recovery: Jade Owens’ Final Year as a Bluejay

January 16, 2019 Leave a comment

The Long Road to Recovery: Jade Owens’ Final Year as a Bluejay

Story by Leo Adam Biga

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Originally published in the January-February 2019 issue of Omaha Magazine ( http://omahamagazine.com/)

Injuries are a part of sports, but Creighton University point guard Jade Owens has weathered more than her fair share. After two years spent recapturing the health and athleticism she once took for granted, she’s returned to play for her senior season.

Owens earned a supporting role as a freshman before working her way into the starting rotation her sophomore year (2015-16). She averaged 7 points, 3.5 assists, and 1 steal per game and won admiration for her scrap and hustle. Things were panning out just as expected for the former all-state basketball player from the Chicago suburb of Fenwick.

Then, the summer before her junior campaign, just as she was coming into her own as a Division I player, she suffered the first in a series of major injuries requiring surgery. She was forced to sit out the 2016-17 season. Setbacks caused her to miss 2017-18 as well.

The promise of what might have been lingers. Her father, Ron Owens (who first taught her the game), says the persistent injuries have been “heartbreaking.”

After three separate six-month-long rehab sessions, she put the heartbreak and physical aches behind her to play in the Bluejays’ preseason exhibition (a closed scrimmage). She returned to the court for Creighton’s regular season home opener versus South Dakota on Nov. 7. The game was her first since March 2016.

“It’s been a road,” Owens says of her journey to recovery.

“Everyone always tells you, ‘You’re going to lose basketball one day,’ but you never think that’s going to happen. I lost it, and I’ve had to re-identify how I was on the team, how I fit in with everyone,” she says. “You don’t know how much basketball shapes your life until you lose it. All aspects of my life—different relationships, friendships, school—were affected by it. Just learning to adapt and to come back from things has been a huge life lesson for me.”

Coach Jim Flanery witnessed Owens fighting for 24 months to reclaim the sport that once defined her. “That’s a long time,” he says. Twice she got close to returning before being sidelined again.

“It’s like you get to a point where you can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and then it gets darker again,” Flanery says.

He describes Owens’ ability to stay hungry and strong enough to withstand “the frustration and disappointment” as a case study in perseverance.

“I just hope I can stay healthy—that’s No. 1—and contribute any way I can,” Owens says. “I know it’s not going to be the same as when I played before. I have to keep that realistic vision and take one day at a time.”

 

She’s learned to lean on her teammates over the years. “They’ve definitely been my rocks,” she says. “They’ve been there for me through it all—through the tears and the laughter. I don’t know if I could have come back without them.”

Her parents have been there, too. “They’ve been behind me the entire time,” she says. Her folks supported her when she considered quitting and when she decided to try coming back even after one failed attempt.

Her father isn’t surprised by Owens’ grit and determination in enduring the grueling physical therapy necessary to recover her mobility and strength.

“I take my hat off to her for sticking it out this long, but I’m not surprised she did the work,” he says. “She just puts her mind to something, and she makes it happen. She’s always been like that. She does whatever it takes to get whatever her goal is.”

He saw her overcome an ankle injury her senior year in high school that resulted in surgery and rehab. That was hard enough, but nothing compared to the last two years. Owens herself still can’t believe she’s on the court again dishing, dancing, and driving after not being able to do much of anything.

“It’s really amazing to me after everything I’ve been through,” she says. “It’s just crazy for me to even think about.”

Then there’s the way she has defied medical opinion.

“Some doctors told me, ‘We don’t know if you can [play basketball] anymore.’ I’ve been hearing that for a long time,” she says.

Her road to recovery began when she noticed pain in her upper thigh during a pickup game on the eve of her junior year. It was treated as a groin problem. Surgery in Omaha didn’t relieve the issue. Then she went home to be examined by a Chicago orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Benjamin Domb, who found the real problem—a right labrum tear. He repaired it. Following six months of recovery, she was no sooner cleared to suit up again when the labrum popped out and she suffered a fracture during her first practice back. Then, this past summer, she suffered a meniscus tear in her right knee that meant another procedure—her third surgery in less than two years—and another arduous recovery regimen.

Fellow CU senior Audrey Faber and junior Olivia Elger marvel at what their teammate has endured.

“I can’t even imagine the long months, days, hours she’s gone through,” Faber says. “Everyone’s excited to have her back. She knows the game, and we have a lot of trust in her.”

Elger says the resilience and mindset Owens has shown “should be a lesson to anyone” dealing with adversity.

That fortitude has not only impressed teammates and coaches, but also Owens’ twin sister, brother, and parents.

“She’s been an inspiration to the family,” her father says.

She is just glad to be back on the court; however, her experiences have done more than nurture athletic recovery. They have inspired a possible career interest. She is applying to medical school (at Creighton and other universities), and she hopes to study orthopedics. She’s even aiming for an internship with her orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Domb.

“I’ve spent a lot of time in doctors’ offices, and I know the lingo,” Owens says. “I think I have some insight into sports medicine and what it’s like dealing with injuries.”

Visit gocreighton.com for more information.

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Omaha Land: Making Neighborhoods Stronger

January 12, 2019 Leave a comment

Omaha Land: Making Neighborhoods Stronger

Story by Leo Adam Biga

Photography by Midland Pictures & Omaha Land bank

Published in the January-February 2019 issue of Omaha Magazine)(http://omahamagazine.com/

 

Cities around the United States experience problems with blighted neighborhoods, in which certain houses and lots go from assets to deficits. Such sites often become magnets for vandals and vagrants.

Locally, some of these problems found an answer with the creation of the Omaha Municipal Land Bank in 2014. The nonprofit is funded in part by donations.

“The Land Bank was created for the City of Omaha by the Nebraska Legislature to be a catalyst for community development,” says OMLB Executive Director Marty Barnhart. “Our role is to address these distressed properties. Folks can donate properties to the Land Bank they no longer want to care for, or are no longer able to take care of.”

OMLB matches properties with buyers who demonstrate the vision and means to redevelop sites. Buyers get nine months to renovate a home, or two years to build on a vacant lot. The hope is that revitalization encourages neighbors to improve their own places. 

The first step is to acquire the properties, and that project takes time and money, especially when it comes to clearing a title on properties whose owners can’t be reached. As a subdivision of local government, OMLB has the power to cancel taxes and municipal liens levied against properties. It can bypass red tape to make purchasing and redevelopment go much quicker. It can also sell properties at lower prices, thus reducing the burden on purchasers to establish equity, borrow money, or make improvements.

“If you think about the city and the county, they could do the kind of things we do, but it would take ordinances, public meetings, and a lot of things to put through their boards,” Barnhart says. “It would take a whole lot longer than the Land Bank with our statuary authority.”

OMLB began selling property in early 2017. The available inventory is listed on its website. The 50-plus properties sold through last October went to “a variety of different individuals and partners,” Barnhart says. “We’ve seen single-family houses transformed and reoccupied.”

He acknowledges the sample size is too small yet to show ripple effects in neighborhoods. But there’s no doubt a long-abandoned house at 2002 Country Club Ave. that was an unsafe eyesore got saved from the rubble heap, redone, and reoccupied.

Country Club property-Before

“It was one of the first big success stories of the Land Bank,” says Omaha City Councilman Pete Festersen, who serves District 1 where the house is located. “That had been a problem for that street for 20 years. We couldn’t find the owner. It was condemned. There were holes in the roof. Animals were in there. It never quite made the list, though, to be demolished. Eventually we did get it onto the list, not wanting to demolish it if we didn’t have to because it was otherwise a very nice property. But it was headed towards demolition until the Land Bank stepped in and finally got a response from the property owner, who was very grateful to sell.

“The Land Bank listed it for a fair, reasonable price and a young couple was able to buy it and rehab it. It’s in great shape today.”

Other transformations are in progress.

An OMLB presentation at their church convinced Carol Windrum and Tim Fickenscher to take on a single-family house redevelopment at 3155 Meredith Ave. Motivated to reverse blight, they used the Land Bank as a social entrepreneurship tool. They purchased the century-old property in January 2018 for $12,500. OMLB shepherded them through the makeover process—the couple’s first time renovating. That included helping find a contractor, who, at the couple’s behest, used as many recycled and reclaimed materials as possible.

The house listed for $77,500 last fall, and Family Housing Advisory Services and mortgage lender Omaha 100 are helping identify prospective low-income candidates to get it sold.

In the Park Avenue area, Brenda and Kurt Robinson seized a chance to prevent another “hole” in the neighborhood when, courtesy of OMLB, they rescued a two-story, 130-year-old house at 2911 Woolworth Ave. for $25,000.

If not for their action, this house might have faced the same fate as others torn down in the area.

“It’s a great structure—super sound. There’s very little we had to do except extra bracing here and there. It’s got a lot of cool exterior features—corbels and fascia we’re working hard to keep. Previous owners maintained all the original woodwork, including cased openings. They were pretty sensitive to the original architecture—thank goodness,” says Brenda, who likes having OMLB as a partner.

“The Land Bank has a mission I can get behind, keeping sturdy old houses alive as really cool places of history as well as homes for the future,” she says.

For greater impact, OMLB targets areas by assembling multiple properties and lots for development. That’s what the organization is doing in the area around 40th and Hamilton streets.

This once-picturesque neighborhood struggled with crime, litter, debris, high turnover, and ill-kept rentals. Since a slumlord relinquished problem properties there and new businesses went in, things have stabilized, says Walnut Hill Neighborhood Association President Murray Hayes. But vacant lots are still an issue.

Walnut Hill is also a focal point due to the Walnut Hill Reservoir, a 16-acre parcel owned by Metropolitan Utilities District. The Land Bank is asking MUD to donate the inactive site for redevelopment. MUD’s weighing what to do.

Omaha City Councilman Ben Gray (District 2), who serves on the Land Bank’s board, says OMLB is ideally suited to be a player in the reservoir’s remaking because the nonprofit’s rules prevent a developer from letting it sit idle.

Barnhart feels OMLB could give a developer a deal that doesn’t require tax increment financing. By assembling and holding properties for developers with the right plans, he says, OMLB protects against speculators.

Gray adds that OMLB is well-poised to address Omaha’s affordable housing shortage in areas of need like this.

“We know we can get nonprofits to do affordable housing, but we’re trying to assemble enough property to entice private developers,” he says. “We’re working on creating solutions to help meet the financing burden developers might face trying to do affordable housing. If we leave it with nonprofits, we’re only going to get so many houses. If we can include the private development community, it increases our ability to get that done at scale.”

Festersen says a proposed city ordinance would create a new relationship whereby the city law department will foreclose on those liens. That will allow the Land Bank to get it back into productive reuse, and on the tax rolls, by purchasing the property. That, and the measures the Land Bank have already taken, are the reasons Gray says, “I think you’re going to see some major developments through the Land Bank in the next two to three years.”


Visit omahalandbank.org for more information.

This article was printed in the January/February 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe._

Woolworth Ave. property

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