A couple days ago, a friend of former University of Kentucky women's basketball player Nastassia Alcius asked her a tough question: If the Women's National Basketball Association called today and offered a contract, would she take it?
It took a minute or two before Alcius produced an answer: "I wouldn't change a thing," she said. "This is life after basketball."
Alcius, a former Henry Clay High School standout and UK guard, will graduate from the Lexington fire department's training academy Friday. She played at UK from 2004 to 2007, averaging 5.5 points, 1.5 rebounds and 1.3 assists.
The Lexington native is among 23 recruits who have gone through about four months of intense training. After Friday's ceremony, they will begin working full time, responding to fires and treating sick and injured people.
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It's a long way from the basketball court, but Alcius, 28, said she was ready for a change.
After graduating in 2006 with a sociology degree, Alcius considered trying to go pro, but she decided she needed a break first. She worked at basketball camps and played for some charity teams, but life on the court was growing wearisome.
The problem was, she didn't know what else to do, she said. From an early age, basketball was her life's passion. Basketball helped keep her out of trouble while growing up in Lexington's Bluegrass Aspendale housing projects.
After college, she toiled on factory lines for a while, eventually being hired at Toyota Motor Manufacturing in Georgetown. The fire department, where she had applied in 2010, called her while she was on lunch break one day in April.
Alcius said being a firefighter seemed like a natural fit.
"I always knew from a young age I wanted to do something with myself and be remembered and give back to the community that has shown me so much love," she said.
Staying in shape, teamwork, humility — the traits that served her on the basketball court have translated remarkably well to her new career in public safety, she said. The basic principles are the same, but instead of putting a ball in a hoop she now lugs a 200-pound firehose through a burning building.
Also, there's more at stake.
"This is bigger than basketball. You're talking about putting your life on the line for somebody else," she said. "You don't put your life on the line in sports."
Alcius will be the third black woman to become a Lexington firefighter. The first was Lt. Brenda Cowan, who was shot and killed while responding to a domestic violence dispute in 2004. Another woman was hired shortly after Cowan, but she resigned after about five years to pursue other things, Battalion Chief Ed Davis said.
Alcius said people had told her she would be compared to Cowan. She said she hoped she could live up to the legacy, not because Cowan was black, or a woman, but because she was a good firefighter who was well-respected by her peers.
"I've heard nothing but good, positive things about her," Alcius said. "The guys down here, how they've talked about her — in my mind, those are some shoes that I will want to be able to fill someday."
If one thing surprised her about the academy, it was how quickly she had to learn. She likened her emergency-medical technician training to "becoming a doctor in a month."
The family-like bond among firefighters is what she looks forward to the most.
"I believe family over everything," she said. "If you don't have a strong family to push you through, to help you be the best you can be, you don't have much of anything."