Virginia women’s basketball senior center Felicia Aiyeotan (Lagos, Nigeria) has been diagnosed with a medical condition that has ended her collegiate basketball career at UVA.
“With each day we are all faced with obstacles that can change our thought processes, our approach to the day, sometimes our plans for the week ahead,” said head coach Tina Thompson. “Those changes in most cases bring a tad bit of frustration, stress and even fear depending on the circumstance. But, when that said obstacle changes the course of your entire life, hopes and dreams, to no fault of your own, how do you approach that? With the news of Felicia’s diagnosis we are in a daily process of figuring it out. A member of our family has been hit with life-changing news and we are all devastated. Devastated that Fe has lost one of the things that she loves most and there is nothing we can do to fix it. We are a family here at Virginia. As a program we first grow the hearts of our student athletes and their talents second. I’m not sure if we will ever be able to mend Fe’s heart with this great loss, but we will do everything possible to comfort her and support her in journey of her new normal. It is in fact what family does.”
Below is a letter from Aiyeotan to Virginia fans.
No one wakes up thinking, “Today, my world will collide. My world will be flipped upside down. My dreams will be shattered.” Like the saying goes, “Everything that has a beginning will surely have an end.”
It is with a heavy heart that I inform you that I will not be playing basketball this year. In fact, my collegiate basketball career has ended prematurely. It’s not by choice and I think that has been the hardest aspect to grapple with this year.
What started out as a knee injury in November of 2018, ended with a devastating diagnosis of Marfan syndrome* through a series of unexpected events. This past year has been extremely frustrating and difficult. I always imagined that I would end my career on my own terms; however, my recent diagnosis leaves the future up in the air.
This diagnosis has robbed me and jeopardizes my chance to potentially continue pursuing basketball. It has taken an opportunity away from me to provide for my family in Nigeria. It has stopped me from playing in the game that, arguably, has saved my life.
One could say my life has always been marked by adversity. I was born in Nigeria and grew up living in the margins of society and often was isolated by my peers because of my height. Standing at 6’9 hasn’t always been an easy task. At times where I don’t want to stand out, I can’t escape this reality.
I was introduced to basketball about nearly a decade ago and it gave me an environment where my height was a source of strength. Since then my life has changed drastically. Imagine something you love being taken away from you.
Basketball gave me the confidence to be comfortable in my own skin. It gave me a voice and helped me gain a better perspective on how to impact the world. It gave me an opportunity to come to the United States to pursue both my education and collegiate career.
I have always seen basketball as an avenue to help remove my family from poverty and provide for them. Being 6’9 and having grown up in impoverished Nigeria, I would have never imagined some of the opportunities I have received because of basketball. However, this recent diagnosis has limited me from doing the one thing I love. The scary reality of my current situation leaves me confused and frustrated about my future, because I am not quite sure what is next.
It has been a long and difficult year. And I am still in the process of coming to terms with my situation as I explore new opportunities. I will continue to always be a voice for those who are underrepresented in everything that I do.
Thank you to the game of basketball for teaching me to always stand tall and be confident in who I am.
To my teammates, coaches, support staff, and Wahoo Nation, thank you for making my time as an athlete here worthwhile.
I will be back.
*Marfan syndrome is a relatively common genetic disorder associated with a wide variety of heart, musculoskeletal, and eye manifestations.