BELGRADE -- Gabby Weber wasn't supposed to be there, collapsed on the basketball court, clutching her leg.
She wasn't supposed to be there, listening to the muffled voices of doctors discussing the possibility of amputating her foot.
She wasn't supposed to be there, diagnosed by Mayo Clinic with a rare vascular disease -- popliteal artery entrapment syndrome -- restricting blood flow to her lower leg and foot.
She was supposed to be in the gym, on the court, playing the game she loved.
"I think it's easy to take whatever sport you're in for granted, and I definitely think that I kind of did that a little bit with high school," said Weber, now a senior at Belgrade. "I just kind of came in and was like, 'Oh, you know, I'm a healthy athlete. You know, I do everything right. I'm eating well, drinking a lot and I'm always in the gym shooting.' So I kind of took it for granted in the sense of just not really cherishing it all the way."
After falling to the court during a game against Havre in December 2018, Weber spent weeks in waiting rooms and doctor's offices, seeking counsel on the sudden injury. It wasn't until weeks later, Mayo Clinic solved the riddle.
Relieved to have a diagnosis, though certainly not a favorable one, Weber and her family began the path to healing. But following surgery in Billings, more complications arose, jeopardizing her basketball future.
"As a mom, it's really hard to see a child, her child, go through something like that," said Crystal Weber, Gabby's mother. "To be tough when I need to be tough, to be lovey when I need to be lovey, but that was hard too when I had to be like, 'No, you're going to school. It's OK, you'll be fine.' And then I feel like, 'Oh my gosh, why can't this girl just stay home? She's been through so much.'"
"She definitely was down, but I, I just have never seen a tougher kid at her age handle something so huge," added Weber's father, Bruce. "Such a huge thing to happen to you in your life."
Despite the odds, Weber continued to push herself in rehab and physical therapy, working with local D.P.T. Cole Schram, who admitted "she’s easily one of the more complex cases I’ve had to deal with."
Then came the week of Feb. 3, 2020. Weber was cleared to officially practice, albeit with limitations, but the good news didn't stop there.
"We knew we were getting close," Belgrade coach Erin Nolte said of Weber's return. "We had a practice, just a shoot-around, and she kind of played a little a half-court, and I think she finally was like, 'I think I'm ready,' and I know her P.T. was just kind of waiting for her to ask.
"She texted me and she was like, ‘NOLTE’ in all capital letters, and I was like, 'What?' She came into my classroom and told me the good news and it was just pure excitement."
On Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020, Gabby Weber suited up for the first time since December 2018, with the Belgrade and Billings Skyview crowds collaborating for a "Gabby's Back" night, complete with T-shirts, a special introduction during starting lineups and a third-quarter 3-pointer that was met with an ovation.
"We just kept looking at each other, and even before she got on the court, we were so excited," said Bruce."I can't even describe how excited we were, and to hear her name and listen to the crowd."
"Just to see her across the gym in a headband and her jersey, smiling and gathering the girls, bringing them together," added Crystal. "I was nervous for her, but I knew that she was ready. It was just very happy and enjoyable, for sure."
Weber has also started a nationwide movement courtesy her "One day at a time" blog, which allows athletes from around the nation to share stories similar to hers -- stories of injury, the mental and physical challenges associated with it and, many times, overcoming those challenges.
"Injured athletes don't get enough recognition about how hard it is to go through injuries we have to face because nobody sees behind the scenes," she said. "I think giving athletes a voice to share and motivate other athletes is the biggest thing. That's just the best support you can get, from one another."
"I got a lot of motivation from the other athletes," she continued. "It wasn't just for them. It was kind of, you could say, a coping mechanism for me, too. I felt alone in a sense of, when I came to practice there was nobody else sitting out. ... Having those other athletes out there, telling their story, to me has been so motivating to keep pushing through and working harder."
Weber still holds dreams of playing college basketball one day, noting if a coach were "just willing to take a chance, they wouldn't regret it." She hopes her story, the one of roller-coaster highs and lows, ultimately with overcoming, will be enough to get that opportunity.
In the meantime, she's enjoying the final month of her high school career, one she thought was gone in an instant, soaking up the bond with her teammates, relationships with her coaches and the competitive spirit she missed for more than a year.
"My advice would be to hold onto the word Hupernikao. That word really got me through the toughest times of my life, because that word means to be more than a conqueror," Weber said. "Nike comes from the word nikao, to conquer and overcome.
"I think that's been the biggest thing for me, holding on to that word whenever I was feeling down or I didn't want to do it anymore, I didn't want to keep fighting. I always told myself, kept repeating that word over and over in my head, told myself to be more than a conqueror and overcomer and to keep pushing."
Weber and Belgrade open the Eastern AA divisional tournament in Billings on Thursday at 5 p.m. against Great Falls CMR. To visit her website, please click here.