Last September, Robert Knar was doing something he’d done hundreds of times before.
Knar, a Mundelein graduate and freshman at Northern Iowa, was playing in a preseason basketball scrimmage at the McLeod Center in Cedar Falls, Iowa. After an opponent made a shot, Knar caught an inbounds pass and turned up the court.
Near the mid-court line, a defender stepped in front of him.
“I tried to change direction,” Knar said. “I felt the [left] knee get torqued. Then it buckled.”
He fell to the floor. As Knar waited for the trainer to arrive, he couldn’t help but think back to a year before.
In July of 2012, Knar, then a Mundelein senior, collapsed during an AAU tournament in Nashville, Tennessee. The resulting ACL tear in his left knee forced Knar to miss much of his senior year.
Now, here he was again, lying on the floor inside a gymnasium. The same knee was unable to withstand one of the sport’s benign movements: the plant and cut.
“As much as I wanted it to be [not torn], in my gut I knew it [was] the same as the first time,” Knar said.
An MRI confirmed that Knar had a complete rupture of his ACL. Surgery came next, followed by months of grueling rehabilitation. But that’s where the story changed for Knar.
Knar admitted to being in a state of shock after his first knee injury. He said the mental rigors became as challenging to overcome as the physical rehab.
“I was distraught the first time,” Knar said. “This time, I had prepared myself. I learned to take it [his recovery] up a notch.”
He discarded his crutches after two weeks. He began strengthening the knee by walking on an underwater treadmill. Knar’s large hamstrings — strengthened by the previous rehab — allowed for a faster recovery time.
“It protected the knee and kept it stable. He did such a good job with his first rehab,” said Don Bishop, Northern Iowa’s men’s basketball trainer. “He has a great mindset and work ethic, an intelligent young man who does research on his own.”
Knar had time to think during physical therapy sessions where he gradually progressed to running and weight lifting. He talked to his father, Dick Knar, who coached him at Mundelein. They talked about how Robert Knar just wanted things to be normal, like how it used to be when he was a kid and played basketball with his friends every day for hours. Robert Knar couldn’t remember the last time he was able to do that.
After several months, Robert Knar had come to accept that he no longer wanted basketball to define who he was.
“I realized basketball is not infinite. At any moment it can end,” Robert Knarsaid. “I learned to be diligent with what I wanted to do outside [of the sport].”
He attacked his studies. Majoring in electrical engineering technology, Robert Knar created a new vision for his life after graduation. He thinks about being a power plant manager or working for NASA making computer applications.
There is much Robert Knar still wants to do with his basketball career. Much stronger than before — Robert Knar is now a sturdy 6-foot-1, 185 pounds — he hopes to be medically cleared to return to court by the time preseason practices begin in October. But now, after two crippling knee injuries, he has begun to design a life in which basketball is just one piece of the puzzle.
“My parents told me that God has a plan. I firmly believe that,” Robert Knar said. “I’ve learned so many things. I’ve never been stronger than I am now.”