Caroline Stewart spent just over seven months in Northern Ireland playing basketball as a member of the women’s professional basketball team in Belfast, the Ulster Rockets.
The 22-year-old former Masconomet and Boston University standout went overseas in September to earn her master’s degree in business at the University of Ulster as a Victory Scholar, as well as play hoop over there.
In mid-March, Stewart suffered a devastating Achilles injury, which for the time being has her back in her hometown of Topsfield recuperating.
“I tore my Achilles in the fourth quarter of the Superleague semifinal game,” Stewart said. “I was driving to the left side of the basket and I thought a player clipped the back on my foot and I went right down. I knew right away it was really bad. Later I learned nobody was behind me to clip my foot, but that is the feeling when an Achilles tears. It feels like somebody has shot you in the back of the leg.”
A few days later a MRI confirmed that it was in fact a tear and Stewart flew home for surgery, which was performed on March 28.
“The whole process was a whirlwind, but I was surrounded by so much support and love while still in Northern Ireland from my Sport Changes Life family. The whole process could not have gone any smoother,” Stewart noted.
Through the Sports Changes Life foundation, Stewart was allowed to play basketball, get her masters and work with at-risk youth as the country’s first female scholar-athlete.
The Ulster Rockets are the newest addition to the Irish Superleague, coming in just two years ago. Stewart powered the team to the league semifinals this season, averaging 18 points per game and 11 rebounds, but for now she is focused on getting back on her feet.
“It will probably take me a full year until I am back 100 percent, but hopefully I will be cleared to play within 6-9 months. It all depends on how well rehab goes,” Stewart said of the recovery period. “This is my first game-changing, serious injury so it will be a test of my character, focus, and dedication to stay true to what I have worked for all my life and get back on the court.”
Stewart surprised her family and flew back for Christmas and spent 10 days at home during the holiday. Though there’s no specific time-frame on when she’ll return, Stewart does plan to return to Belfast.
“I do look forward to going back to Ireland eventually,” Stewart said. “I’m not currently in talks now on going back yet, it all depends on timing and how quick I can recover. I’m aware that it is a very slow recovery process. I want to make sure to rehab the right way and not push anything.
“I loved everything about Northern Ireland. The people are so welcoming and friendly and the lifestyle is very laid back. I really enjoyed working with the at-risk youth, through Sport Changes Life. I hope I made a difference in the kids lives because they have made such a difference in mine.”
A born leader, Stewart captained the BU Terriers for three seasons in college. She finished with 737 career points in 122 games for BU and is fourth in school history with 791 rebounds. During her final season with the Terriers, she started all 32 games and averaged a career best 7.8 points per game and 8.4 rebounds, while recording four double-doubles.
The 6-foot power forward hit the 1,000 point and rebound mark during her senior season at Masconomet in 2008, when she was named the Cape Ann League’s MVP. Stewart found herself as more of a role player when she entered college on full athletic scholarship, but quickly grew as one of the Terriers’ leading rebounders and continued that theme in Belfast.