Two jars of bone chips sit on a shelf in Robert and Joani Reese's study in Kensington. The chips used to float inside the ankles of their 21-year-old daughter Chrissy.
"The doctor sent them to us," Robert Reese said. "Chrissy doesn't like them, but to us, it's just a reminder of the pain and the hard work she's gone through. It helps us believe what's happened."
Those ankles are Chrissy Reese's Achilles' heel. She once seemed to have everything: popularity, honor grades and skills on the basketball court that led many to call her the best women's player to come out of the Washington area.
After being an all-America at Kensington's Holy Cross Academy, Reese headed for the University of Virginia, where she was named second-team all-ACC as a freshman. Today, Reese spends her basketball hours on the bench, often in agony, her once-promising athletic career almost over.
Reese, who is 6 feet 1 and 155 pounds, has long, narrow, high-arched feet, a major reason for her ankle problems. Years of running and jumping on hardwood and concrete courts didn't help.
Her ankle problems began her senior year at Holy Cross and got worse during her first year in Charlottesville. By the end of her sophomore season, an operation was necessary to repair ligament damage and remove bone chips.
Reese came back too soon from the operation and suffered through a miserable 1981-82 season, averaging 4.0 points and 3.9 rebounds per game.
She had another operation last summer, but has never been able to regain the form that made her one of the most highly recruited high school players in the country.
"I never thought about giving up, but it's so frustrating knowing you're not the same player out there," she said. "It was embarrassing for me and hard for others to watch me play."
People began watching her excel on the basketball court when she was a seventh grader in CYO leagues in Montgomery County. She benefited from the occupations of her parents; she took dozens of dance lessons at her mother Joani's dance studio and her father, a former Catholic University basketball coach, worked with her on the court.
She was the first freshman ever to start for Bill Sheahan, Holy Cross Academy's coach at the time, who now coaches the women's team at Mount St. Mary's College. "She was one of the most competitive players, men or women, I've coached in 25 years," Sheahan said. "She's never satisfied with where she is; she always wants to be better."
Reese led Holy Cross to a 110-4 record, including a Washington-area record 56 victories in a row that grew to 112 after she graduated. She made three all-America teams and twice was named the area's player of the year by The Washington Post.
Reese graduated from Holy Cross in 1979. Lots of offers came in, but Virginia was her choice from her junior year in high school on, and Coach Debbie Ryan of Virginia was just as eager to choose Reese.
"Chrissy was the dominant player in D.C. and we needed her badly," Ryan said. "She was our first all-America. She gave us a bona-fide center. People would see her and Jill (fellow all-American McKone) and they would say Virginia's got a bona-fide program. It made it so much easier to get other top-flight kids."
Her freshman year was top-flight. She averaged 12.1 points and a team-leading 10.5 rebounds per game as she and McKone led the Cavaliers to their best record--20-12.
But then the injuries started. "One doctor told me that Chrissy has the ankles of an 80-year-old," Ryan said. "It was tough for me first to realize how serious Chrissy's injury was, and then to explain it to her. She wanted to be herself as she was. Finally, I showed her a videotape of herself on the court and she said, 'That's not me.' "
But it was.
Now, Reese has come to accept her injuries and her bench-warmer status. "You have to pick yourself up," she said. "Maybe this is preparing me for something later on in my life. I'm tougher inside now. I don't regret coming here or coming out this year. I love this school. Basketball means so much to me, it's worth the risk of another injury."
Reese's teammates are glad to see her in uniform again this season. "Until I hurt my knee, I couldn't really understand what Chrissy was going through," sophomore star Cathy Grimes said. "I thought I was in pain, but then I thought about the pain Chrissy plays in, day in and day out. I just have so much respect for her."
Reese said, "I feel a responsibility to contribute to the team. I feel a lot stronger than last year, but I know I'm only 70 percent of what I used to be." It shows in her statistics; playing in four games, she's averaging 2.8 points and 3.5 rebounds.
"It's great just to have her out there," Ryan said. "We just wanted her to be a part of the team, and so did Chrissy. She's a very loyal kid."
Reese will graduate in May with a degree in psychology. Her only regret: "Every time I see someone else do something I used to be able to do, I think about what might have been."