LOS ANGELES – Feeling invincible is normal for a man in college, but all it takes is one instant to realize someone’s not.
UCLA’s Danny McClintick experienced that and though the process wasn’t enjoyable, he does believe it has given him a better outlook on life and made him a better water polo player.
The culmination of a rough year came in the finals of the NCAA championship when McClintick scored a goal and had three assists as the Bruins defeated cross-town rivals, USC, 10-7.
McClintick was ready to enjoy his senior year for the Bruins, especially after the special moment that capped his junior season. McClintick scored four goals in the 2014 NCAA Tournament and was named MVP, helping bring UCLA its first NCAA Championship since 2004.
Then one early morning in April, McClintick’s world drastically changed. He and his roommate were on a scooter going to a predawn training session when a car turned left and hit the scooter, sending McClintick flying through the intersection.
“We were going about 45 mph and got t-boned by the car,” McClintick said. “The bumper of her car hit my left leg. I got thrown from the scooter about 10 yards. Thank God we were wearing helmets or it could have been a lot worse.”
When McClintick came to rest the first thing he remembers doing was wiggling his fingers and toes.
"Once I knew I was OK, I sat up and then looked down at my foot,” McClintick said. “After seeing my foot and ankle I didn’t even try to move.”
Six bones were broken in his left foot and his roommate – who was largely unhurt – quickly called 9-1-1.
McClintick had to endure a painful surgery and he still has a biodegradable pin in his foot.
The surgery was a breeze compared to the rehabilitation and it was harder to tell what was more difficult-- the physical process or the mental one.
“I couldn’t put any weight on the foot for six weeks,” McClintick said. “That was tough, but knowing I wasn’t going to play until August was even harder to deal with. An athletic career is so short. It was frustrating.”
There are benchmarks that happen in any rehab assignment and McClintick’s was no different. It was a slow ordeal and difficult for a 20 year old to have to endure.
"After surgery I had no range of motion,” McClintick said. “I couldn’t train or anything. After a while I could do little things, but it took so long.”
One bright spot was he was able to accompany the team when they went to South Korea in July to play in the World University Games. Although he couldn’t play, McClintick was able to observe and learn the game from UCLA head coach Adam Wright.
“It was bittersweet,” McClintick said. “I’d be lying if I didn’t say part of me was bummed I didn’t play. He [Wright] did a great job teaching me about water polo while I wasn’t playing.”
When McClintick did get back in the pool the tougher battle was with his mind, not his body.
“Medically you are cleared but doesn’t mean I was physically and mentally prepared,” McClintick said. “I was ready to get back to playing but it took me awhile to be 100 percent.”
It was about halfway through the season when he felt fully comfortable.
“Of course I was excited to get back in the water,” McClintick said. “Coach was great and helped me out to prepare for this.”
What McClintick learned on his own, however extended well beyond water polo.
“I learned how important, how special, every day is,” McClintick said. “You never know how fast things can change.”