She tried hiding it behind a stoic exterior, but at times the pain overtook her as she bent over at the waist, clutching her shorts in an attempt to push it back.
This scene played out many times over the course of the second half of the season.
Helms would go hard while the game was on, but when halftime hit or during timeouts, the pain in both of her legs would take over.
In a game at Hamden in early February, with everyone else in the locker room already for halftime, Helms stood bent over near half court with a teammates hand gently placed on her back.
Gingerly, she walked to join her team for halftime and by the start of the third quarter, she was back on the floor.
She never made excuses, rarely complained and missed none of the final games of her senior season.
For her efforts, Helms is the 2018-19 GameTimeCT/New Haven Register All-State Player of the Year.
Helms will be playing next year at the University of Nebraska on a full-athletic scholarship.
After leading East Haven to a state title her junior season, Helms averaged 26.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 3.3 steals a game her senior season.
She rang up two triple-doubles and eight double-doubles this past season and finished her career with 1,715 career points. She scored 1,073 of those points in two years at East Haven and 642 during her two years playing at Loomis Chaffee.
East Haven’s Makenzie Helms with the 2 right before half #ctgb
Halftime New London 34 East Haven 29 pic.twitter.com/0pMN6uMsc0
— Pete Paguaga (@PetePaguaga) December 18, 2018
“I really want to succeed for myself, my parents and my town,” Helms said. “It was such a relief getting the No. 1 seed this year and such an honor in a league with so many good teams. I have always loved basketball. I loved watching my dad play and just being around the game as much as I could when I was younger.”
Helms only played two seasons at East Haven but left quite an impression.
“Makenzie has an old-school mentality,” East Haven coach Anthony Russell said. “She does everything well on the court. She has great court vision, can shoot, her dribbling is excellent and she rebounds really well. She would rather make the extra pass and she’s a great distributor and has the confidence to give the ball to her teammates. She makes everyone better.”
As the pain in her legs increased as the season progressed, Helms was concerned but also pretty sure she knew what was causing it.
— Mike Madera (@MikeMadera2) March 6, 2019
In eighth grade, Helms began feeling pain in her legs. She was told it was shin splints and later that she had tendinitis. She simply played through the pain.
Last summer while playing in an AAU tournament in Chicago the pain overtook her. As she sat on the trainer’s table, she saw both of her legs were black and blue.
“It was a little scary,” Helms said. “I had been dealing with pain for a few years but this was different.”
Helms was diagnosed with compartment syndrome in both of her legs. Because of the severity of her case, surgery was required.
According to the Mayo Clinic, chronic exertional compartment syndrome is an exercise-induced muscle and nerve condition that causes pain, swelling and sometimes disability in the affected muscles of the legs or arms.
Helms had surgery on two of four compartments in the legs in August.
— Scott Ericson (@EricsonSports) February 6, 2019
The surgery is a fasciotomy, an operation where the thick, fibrous bands that line the muscles are filleted open, allowing the muscles to swell and relieve the pressure within the compartment.
Helms’ procedure was successful though she knew she may need to come back to deal with the other two compartments flared up.
Halfway through this season, the pain gradually crept back in and Helms feared the worst.
“I started getting the reoccurring symptoms and I was hoping it was compartment syndrome again but I knew in the back of my head, it was,” Helms said. “It was making me very nervous because I didn’t want to miss any of my senior season and I knew the pain would only get worse as it went on.”
round 2, optimistic !!!!!
The symptoms of compartment syndrome increase with repetitive exercise and the harder Helms played down the stretch, the more it hurt.
“It’s extremely painful and when I run it acts up. Some games it was really bad,” Helms said. “Knowing what it was, I think I was able to deal with it better.”
She never used it as an excuse, rather hiding her pain the best she could and soldiering on to complete her senior season on the floor with her team.
After the season, Helms has been receiving treatments on both of her legs and is hoping to avoid another surgery, though she is not sure that will be possible.
Makenzie Helms had an impressive season on the court, made even more impressive by what she was going through physically to reach that point.
2018-19 GameTimeCT All-State Girls Basketball Team