Injured Notre Dame senior Natalie Achonwa showed toughness to the very end, refusing to take a wheelchair back to the locker room following Notre Dame's loss to UConn in the women's basketball national championship game Tuesday night in Nashville.
Nine days ago, Achonwa tore her ACL with just minutes remaining in the Irish victory over Baylor to capture the regional championship on their home floor at Purcell Pavilion.
The injury meant Achonwa would not be able to play in the Final Four as a senior, after helping leading the Irish to women's basketball elite stage for all four seasons of her ND career.
Achonwa stayed remarkably strong all week, refusing to ever feel sorry for herself and continuing to be the emotional leader for the Irish at the Final Four, despite the fact that she was unable to play.
When the final seconds ticked off, and the careers of Achonwa and fellow seniors Kayla McBride and Ariel Braker officially came to an end, a wheelchair was brought out for Achonwa for the rather substantial journey back to the Irish locker room. Here's an athlete who has yet to have surgery on that injured knee and she immediately walked passed the wheelchair and said 'no' when she was asked 'you don't want it?'
No one would have thought otherwise had Achonwa taken the wheelchair back to the locker room but it was one last act of leadership. Achonwa walked through the halls and all the way back to the locker room with her teammates.
"I don't like a hypocrite," Achonwa explained as to why she refused the wheelchair. "If I was going to come back [to the locker room] and tell them to keep their heads held high, I wasn't going to sit in the chair to come back here. I needed to walk. I wanted to show my team no matter what we needed to stand tall and keep our heads held high because we did everything this year."
And what has Notre Dame meant to Natalie?
"Everything," she said with a huge smile. "I wouldn't trade these four years for anything--if it meant a championship--i wouldn't do it."
There's no question Achonwa is leaving Notre Dame with her head held high---having led the Irish to four straight Final Fours and three national title game appearances.