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Working Back from Injury

The volleyball team posters hanging in Steph Frohwein’s room call out the themes for the competitive season. In large letters, they say “No Excuses” and “Focus.”

For the Lincoln High School senior, those words are more than just a slogan. They describe the way that she rebounded from surgery to the anterior cruciate ligaments (ACL) in both legs, coming back stronger than ever for her last competitive season.

“I’m never the kind of person who plays cautiously, scared that I’m going to get hurt,” says the animated athlete, who stands about 5-feet, 3-inches tall. “If you work hard, you’ll get where you need to go.”

An unexpected twist

Steph’s first injury happened in the warm-ups for her last game of the season against Washington High School. The then-sophomore player was playing in the back row when she landed on her left foot.

“I knew right away that something was really wrong,” she says, with a frown. “ I was fortunate in that Sanford CNP, Chris Nelson was present and helped direct my care.”

She sat on the bench the rest of the game and soon learned that she had had torn her left ACL, damaging the knee ligament that joins the upper leg bone with the lower leg bone and provides stability for the knee.

She consulted with Sanford orthopedic surgeon Paul Reynen, who repaired the damage. Following the surgery, she started on a six-month process of rehabilitation, a combination of exercises for flexibility, strengthening and endurance, plus training in coordination and agility.

“I knew that if I worked hard, the next year I’d be able to play the way I wanted,” Steph said. “I’m a naturally determined person, so I felt that it could work.”

Working her way back

Steph came back her junior year with all the strength and function she had before the injury. All was well until the semi- final game of the state tournament, when she went for a ball and then abruptly stopped.

“My coach, Erika Paladino-Hazlett and trainer asked me if it hurt and I said, “kinda,” she says with a laugh. “I didn’t cry because it hurt, but because I was so very frustrated having this happen again and during the state tournament. “

The volleyball player knew even before her knee was evaluated through an MRI that she had torn the ACL – this time on her right leg. Once again she underwent surgery with Dr. Reynen for ACL reconstruction and repair.

The support of her family, church and friends, plus the Sanford physical therapy team helped her make it through a second round of post-surgical rehabilitation. There were times early on in her recovery when she needed help managing the stairs at home, but she worked hard to get rid of her crutches as quickly as she could and to carry her own books and gear at school.

“It shows a lot about her character,” said her parents, Jeff and Martha Frohwein. “She wasn’t sad or wanting pity, she was very focused on working hard and getting back to where she had been before.”

Ready to play

Coming into her senior year, Steph not only played well the entire season, she even won the Iron Will Athlete of the Year Award, a trophy from the South Dakota Athletic Trainers Association, given to an athlete who comes back from serious injury.

And this year, when her team went to the state tournament, Steph played every game, playing hard on the court and helping cheer on other players too, as Lincoln High won their back-to-back state volleyball championship.

“It was great because I knew what I had worked for, but it was great for all of us,” Steph said. “The whole team had worked for this.“

In addition to the accomplishment that Steph felt in coming back from her injuries, the time she spent with physical therapists and doctors has had an effect on her career goals. When she goes to college next year, she hopes to study to become a nurse practitioner.

“Dealing with all of this has exposed me to how great the people are who work in the medical field,” she says. “The people who treated me were incredible.”

Steph became an inspiration to others, who saw how hard she worked to come back from injury and how her positive attitude and spirit was conveyed on and off the court, her mother said. Throughout the whole process, her daughter found strength through her faith in God and tried to make the best of the situation.

“We’re very proud of the role model she’s been to others,” her parents said. “Sometimes people have to go through difficult situations, and the excellent treatment she received allowed her to work hard and get back in the game.”

Posted Date: January 2012