My journey through a season lost to injury
My name is Katelyn McElveen and I am a Division II student-athlete on the NCAA SAAC Committee. I am a junior at Coker College where I play volleyball and softball, and double major in communications and sport management.
I just wanted to share my story.
In high school, I was deemed a softball player, yet I knew I did not want to give up my dream of playing college volleyball. Coker was in my hometown (Hartsville, SC), and I was offered a chance to play both.
My high school was very small, so I was very scared that maybe I was out of my league as a two-sport collegiate athlete. However, my freshman year was a dream come true. I came in with a new volleyball coach and a new program that was being built from the ground up. I originally thought I’d play libero, but became a starting outside hitter at a whooping 5'5” (lol).
Our record was not great that season, but I had a banner year, and I knew the program would only become better. I also hoped to be a leader that would inspire my teammates to reach greatness. I was told I lost Freshman of the Year of our conference by one vote. In softball, I excelled even more, winning Conference Carolinas Freshman of the Year.
After the awards ceremony at the end of the semester, I thought the world had opened up for me. I thought I could only go up. I just knew I was going to leave my mark on Coker Athletics history, so I started preparing for my sophomore year setting many goals for myself going into the 2011 sports seasons.
Earlier that year, in January 2011, I was throwing and felt a slight pop in my throwing arm. It was a very cold practice, and I tried to shake it off. I went to the trainers, and we started watching my arm. But just as I started strengthening exercises the doctors diagnosed me with a possible SLAP tear.
I was told that regular therapy would get by, so I was confident I’d be okay. But time would ultimately tell me how my arm was faring. I started the volleyball season off strong, but things went downhill quickly. I was struggling physically and mentally. I thought I had "peaked” and I refused to cut myself any slack by blaming my struggles on an arm injury.
As time went on, my arm swing started to change. I quickly dropped from one of the premier hitters in our league, to the very bottom. I was spiraling downward quickly. By the end of season, my arm was shot. I was doing therapy just to try to stay on the court. The trainers tried more forms of rehab after the season was over, but nothing was proving to be successful. I wanted a second opinion, because softball season was approaching quickly.
I between the volleyball and softball seasons I went to see orthopedic doctors at the University of South Carolina. Dr. Mazou was very helpful, but told me that operating on an over-head athlete was very risky. I knew that the surgery could end my volleyball career, or it could restore my arm back to the way it was as a freshman.
I was faced with a decision that would alter my destiny. After weeks of prayer and tears, I decided to have the surgery.
On January 19, 2012, almost exactly one year since that initial pop in my arm, I had surgery to repair a posterior labrum tear and capsular repair. My recovery time was six-to-nine months. The doctor said he could not promise volleyball in the fall of 2012, but I just knew I would be back to play volleyball that year and softball the next.
The surgery was the easiest part. For 6 weeks, my arm had to remain in a sling. Any over head motion could rip out the three anchors that were drilled into my bone. I had to learn how to eat left-handed, put on makeup left-handed, and write my notes without my dominant hand in classes. I went home because I could not even shower without help.
I remember finally moving my arm for the first time in six weeks. I almost cried because I was so happy. I also remembered how excited I was when I could reach out my hand and open a door by myself. I devoted all my time to therapy. I had to be told to take a break because I always wanted to work on it.
Therapy was the most painful thing I've ever been through. I had to relearn every motion. I had to keep myself from screaming out in pain in the formal therapy sessions. But, whenever someone asked, "Will you be ready for the 2012 season?" I would answer "Yes."
I had many dark days, but as the months dragged on, I was seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. July 2012 rolled around and I went into the doctor's office thinking this would be the appointment that would set me free. He told me I was looking fantastic, but I could not be an outside hitter anymore.
I was heartbroken, but I was cleared to play back row. It wasn't how I planned on starting my junior year, but I was ready to make that comeback. I was allowed to start a hitting program. The first time I hit, I could not even get it over the net. I kept working and doing as much therapy as I could. A couple of weeks later, we had our first scrimmage the trainers thought I shouldn’t play back row until I was completely cleared to hit.
I wasn't going to go into the scrimmage that day, but I was feeling good and the staff thought the scrimmage would show how ready I was. I went in, got a few digs, and then a shank ball was hit. I dove out with my hitting arm and popped it up. I had to roll out, and when I did, my head slammed against the hard wood floor.
I suffered a concussion, and I was out once again. About two weeks later, I started my return to play protocol. I was doing great. I was even starting to practice with the team again.
We went to a tournament the next weekend, but I still wasn’t dressing out. However, I was on the sidelines helping the team shag balls. I had leaned down and when I came back up, a shank ball slammed into the back of my head. My concussion symptoms came back even worse, and the trainers thought I’d suffered second-impact syndrome. I had to start all over.
The latest injury had me down, but I picked myself back up again. I started hitting after a few weeks. I started passing. I thought I was feeling better. My doctor's appointment was October 10th, and that would be the day that I would be putting a uniform on.
That morning, my mom and I loaded up and headed to the doctor's appointment. I wasn't feeling too great, but I just thought it was a girl thing. When I got there, the nurse took my blood pressure. It was 156/106. My mom, who is a cardiac rehab nurse, said it must be wrong. They retook it several times, but each time the numbers were sky high.
However, I was cleared to participate in full activity. My mom took me back to my family doctor just to follow up on my BP numbers. My blood pressure remained elevated. I went back to the trainers at school, and was told I couldn’t play if my pressure was 140/90. My pressure was going down a little the next day. Two days later, we had an away game. I put on a uniform, and went into a game for about 3 rotations. I was so excited that everything seemed to be getting back on track. My head was still hurting some, but I brushed it off thinking it was as side effect of high blood pressure.
The next week I got sick at one of my first practices back. I then went back to the team doctor. They did an MRI on my head, and it showed I still had bruising on my frontal lobe from my concussion. The doctors thought the high blood pressure could be a result from my body being under physical stress, and they took me completely out of volleyball until my symptoms had resolved.
As I am sitting here writing this, I’ve been officially ruled out for the season. Yesterday, my team secured their spot in the conference playoffs. This has been the first time in five years, and the first time since I've been here.
It has been a rocky road, and I'm still battling the demons that surround my situation. I sit on the sidelines and watch as my team enters the playoffs, something I've been dreaming about participating in since I got here. I sit in class and daydream back to freshman year when I thought every door had opened for me.
I've missed a complete year of sports. Every time I see an outside hitter hit, or a second baseman throw a ball, I feel a stab because I don't know if I will ever be back to that. I know I may not be able to be that player on the court that scores the game-winning point, or the hitter that hits a grand slam to end the game. But I can inspire people, and I want to do that.
I've always liked the underdogs, so why not join them? I don't know what the future holds, but I'm searching for that answer through faith and determination. I just wanted to share my struggles.
Sometimes, I feel that people think injury rehab is an easy process. But, I've had to live with the reality that I may never come back the same. I have to live with the fact that I chose to have the surgery.
My story isn't over though, so maybe one day I can write again, sharing my comeback victory story. Until then, writing this story has been therapeutic for me.