Enduring, and embracing, a too-familiar process

Posted Feb 17, 2012

No one could blame Walter Thurmond if he felt sorry for himself after a second season-ending surgery in 25 months. But he's using the same short memory in his rehab process that serves him so well on the field.

To play cornerback in the NFL, it is necessary to have a short memory. Because dwelling on just being beaten on one play will only increase the chances that you also get beat on the next play.

This indispensable trait has served Walter Thurmond well, off the field as well as on.

"You hear the old adage about the DB with a short memory, Walter carries that consistently to other aspects of his life, obviously," said Kris Richard, the Seahawks' former cornerback who now coaches the defensive backs on Pete Carroll's staff.

"He's not going to allow a negative outlook to impede his rehabilitation, which is a really good sign. That's kind of what makes him a special person and a special player."

In a span of 25 months, Thurmond had reconstructive surgery on his right knee (during his senior season at the University of Oregon) and a surgical procedure on his left ankle (last October during his second season with the Seahawks).

Suffice it to say, Thurmond has become as familiar with the rehab routine as the practice schedule.

"The rehab process is tedious. It's the same thing every day," Thurmond said. "Just going through the process with my knee, it seems like it never gets better. So you really have those days to where it can get stressful and it gets tiring, because you just want to get back to where you were. So you really have to overcome that and just keep going, and know what the end goal is that you want to accomplish. 

"It's like being an injured bird and just wanting to be able to fly once you get your wings healthy again."

Thurmond leaned on this don't-look-back philosophy after tearing the anterior cruciate, medial collateral and posterior cruciate ligaments in his knee while returning the opening kickoff in the Ducks' fourth game in September 2009.

"I'm not just going to be moping around because my season's over," he told the Eugene Register Guard at the time. "I already did that already, it's already in the past, and we've got to move forward now."

There was no moping around after the Week 7 loss to the Browns in Cleveland, either, when Thurmond was lost for the season and had surgery to inset screws in his cracked fibula.

"When it's taken away from you, you never really take things for granted," Thurmond said. "Just the simple act of walking after being in a cast for two, three months and not being able to do anything. That's what keeps you going – those little things that can be taken for granted."

Said Richard, "It's a shame that he was hurt. But he was hurt doing the right thing – in great position, going up to intercept the ball. It was just kind of a freaky little accident there."

Remaining so positive seemed difficult from the outside looking in during a 2011 season when Thurmond had to deal with so much.

He was expected to be the starter on the right side when training camp opened, but then got a high sprain of his left ankle that cracked the door for Brandon Browner to step in – and before he was done Browner had made the quantum leap to playing in the Pro Bowl. Thurmond moved in on the left side in the Week 5 upset of the Super Bowl champion New York Giants because starter Marcus Trufant was out with a back issue that led to him being placed on injured reserve. But when Thurmond went down while breaking up a pass in the end zone, rookie Richard Sherman stepped in – and some felt he was the team's best cornerback by the end of the season.

"That's the one promising thing – we all know what Walter is capable of," Richard said. "We need him to be healthy because he's a player capable of being a starter. We just need him to get back, and to get back to that form he showed earlier.

"He wowed a lot of people in training camp last year before he went down with the ankle."

Down, but undaunted. That's Thurmond.

"It can be stressful at times, but I just keep my faith and look at it one day at a time," he said. "We had a saying at Oregon: "Win The Day." You can't really look to the future and you can't worry about the past, you can only worry about the day. Today is going to get you to where you want to be a couple weeks down the line.

"So after being hurt in the game, or even being injured in camp, it was, "What can I do today to get my ankle better to be able to come back?" So it's always just keep it strong and having confidence in myself, knowing the type of player that I am." 

The Seahawks never really got to see the real deal with Thurmond as a rookie, because he was still working his way back from what Richard labels the "catastrophic" knee injury he got in college.

"You would like to give a guy an entire year to recover and come back from an injury like that," Richard said. "But Walter came back and kind of made a splash by the end of his rookie season and then by the time camp opened last year you could tell he was back."

Until he sprained the ankle, and then needed surgery on the same ankle.

So while most of his teammates are off enjoying their prolonged offseason, thanks to the new CBA that ended last year"s 136-day lockout, Thurmond can be found at Virginia Mason Athletic Center – five or six hours a day, five days a week. He rehabs his ankle with trainer Sam Ramsden and his staff in the training room. He lifts weights under the supervision of strength and conditioning coach Chris Carlisle and his staff. He addresses the mental aspect by watching video after those workouts.

"Going as hard as I can in the rehab process, that's my main priority right now," Thurmond said. "Just taking these small steps to be where I need to be once training camp comes."

Thurmond won't be able to start running for a couple more weeks – the next huge hurdle in being cleared to join the offseason workouts, especially for a player whose speed is such an important part of his game.

"I'm really looking forward to that – running like I did before I got hurt," he said, unable to suppress a large smile. "That's going to be a great accomplishment, once I get there."

What does the future hold for a player brimming with so much talent and potential? That's what everyone is anxious to find out – from Thurmond; to Richard; to defensive coordinator Gus Bradley; to Carroll; to the rest of the Pro Bowl-rich secondary.

"Obviously, we're excited about getting him back," Richard said. "I know he"s itching to get back out there and compete, and we're itching to get him back out there and see him compete."