No limitations for ND's O'Dell
If you watch Notre Dame's Megan O'Dell play you see a good defensive center with a nice touch around the basket.
If you talk to O'Dell you find one of the more upbeat, positive high school juniors around.
That there is something different for O'Dell when she plays basketball is a fact that many opposing teams and players don't even realize.
O'Dell was named a second-team IAC all-star this year and is a starter for a sectional bound basketball team. And she accomplishes all this with just one hand.
The Notre Dame junior was born with a condition that left her fingers not fully formed and before her first birthday they were removed leaving her without a left hand.
Right from an early age O'Dell had the support of those around her allowing her to try anything she wanted.
"My parents were really supportive, they always let me try what I wanted to try," O'Dell said.
And, as she got older it's been coaches and teammates that have been there to support her.
"My coaches have always just encouraged me a lot," she said.
With the support behind her O'Dell has always been just another player, working her hardest to be the best she can be.
"I try and work as hard as everyone else," she said "I just try different things and see what works out."
Now O'Dell has developed into a second-team IAC all-star.
"When I found out it was just a nice surprise," she said.
For O'Dell it helps in some ways that she has had her whole life to adjust to her hands.
"I am used to it by now, I guess I have just gotten used to it," she said.
As she started out in basketball she realized there were things she struggled with, but she has just changed her game to fit her skills.
"When I was young I didn't think of it as limitations," she said. "When I got older I started to realize I couldn't dribble as good as other players, so I just had to make adjustments."
That meant turning into a post player that has used her height, and tenacity inside to battle for every loose ball.
"I like my height," O'Dell said with a smile of being a 6-foot center.
While she rebounds and plays defense O'Dell uses both arms, often using her left arm to help control the ball and then pulling it in with her right hand.
Because she has had to rely on her right hand O'Dell believes it is stronger, which can help as she pulls the ball away from opposing players.
"I think my right hand is stronger than it would be if I had two hands," O'Dell said.
She has learned to use her left arm so well on the basketball court in large part because she has adjusted to using it off the court.
"I do that every day in my life," she said of using the arm. "I just learned to use it to hold and carry things."
One thing that continues to help O'Dell is her work ethic to keep getting better at everything she does.
"I know I just have to keep working hard every day," she said.
When she started in the sport of basketball O'Dell never imagined the day would come where she would be a starting high school center.
"When I was in fifth grade I started playing basketball and I never thought I would play high school basketball," she said.
Along the way there have been plenty of challenges, but O'Dell has handled them the best she can, believing things would work out in the end.
"Ever since I started playing it just has kind of worked itself out," she said.
It has been a help for O'Dell having teammates that have always helped her.
"A lot of the girls I have played with since the ages of CYO they know where to put the ball and where I like it," she said.
The biggest thing for O'Dell is that her teammates have just treated her like every other player.
"My teammates are great, they always treat me like one of them, like there isn't anything different with me."
This year the things that concerned O'Dell had nothing to do with her hand. Instead her worries were the same as any player who was becoming a full-time varsity player.
"Last year I didn't get as much playing time as this year," she said. "This year I just wanted to try and do my best and then to find out I was going to start. It's been a fun year, I want to try and make it to states."
In the past O'Dell learned a lot from JV coach Joe Leonard and former varsity coach Bob Kelly, but she knew this year would be different.
When Notre Dame hired Maurice Rankins as coach, O'Dell didn't know how a new coach would do with her.
However, she quickly found out that Rankins has been one of the best things to help develop her game.
"When I found out we would have a new coach I was a little worried that he wouldn't know what to do with me," she said. "But, it's been great. He has taught me new post moves and really helped me get better."
Now, the girl that in fifth grade never imagined playing varsity basketball is starting to realize that her junior year is nearing an end and she will soon be a senior leader on a varsity basketball team.
"It's pretty crazy, I never thought I would play high school basketball and next year will be my senior year on varsity and I think it will be really special," she said.
O'Dell talks about inspiring other people with disabilities or limitations. However, for O'Dell it's not really a limitation as she has proven that nothing can limit what she can accomplish.
"I think it's great if some people do have disabilities or limitations that they see they can try anything they want to try," O'Dell said.
The idea that she might help other people to try things they didn't know they were capable of is something special to the Notre Dame junior.
"I like the idea that I might be an inspiration to someone, that they can do something they think they can't do," she said.
It's not that O'Dell doesn't realize things are tougher for her, she just knows that means she has to work twice as hard.
"I don't let it stop me at all," she said. 'I do have limitations, but that means I have to work as hard as I can."
All along the way she has had the support of everyone around her. With no one limiting her, O'Dell has always known she was capable of anything.
"I have been surrounded by friends that knew about it, and family and coaches that allowed me to try whatever I wanted to do," she said.
And what she has wanted to do was be just like everyone else on the basketball floor.
Rarely has O'Dell ever had another player talk to her about her left hand after games, in part because she doesn't think many of them have ever noticed.
"It just shows I can play like everyone else can," she said.
For Notre Dame the sectional playoffs begin on Wednesday and O'Dell will be out at center, hoping to reach that goal of getting to states with her team.
She will be rebounding and defending and scoring when needed.
The opposing teams likely won't even notice a difference and that's exactly the way the Notre Dame junior wants it.
She wants to help lead her team in sectionals and get to states and she wants to do it being just another player on the team, no different than anyone else on the team.
Brian Fees is the Sports Editor of The Daily Review.