MARQUETTE - Brittney Kirch has a bulletin board at her home covered with medals, ribbons and team photos.
The 16-year-old Ishpeming High School student won them while competing in a variety of sports and the board is a daily reminder of her accomplishments.
But after suffering two serious sports-related injuries, the board now reminds her of what she has lost. She's afraid that she won't be able to add any new medals or ribbons.
Brittney Kirch watches a high pitch ball fly past her at the plate during a recent fast pitch softball game in Tilden Township. (Journal photo by Andy Nelson-Zaleski)
Two years ago, Kirch tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right leg while at basketball team camp.
"I stole the ball from a player and then I went to do a jump stop and my knee buckled," she said.
Then came the sobering news.
Knee injury prevention
According to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, worldwide, between 10 and 25 percent of adolescents sustain knee injuries, with more recent studies reporting even higher percentages. Females and adolescents appear to at an increased risk of sustaining a knee injury compared to males. The National Institutes of Health offer some tips on knee injury prevention for kids:
Be in proper condition to play the sport. Get a preseason physical exam.
Follow the rules of the game.
Wear appropriate protective gear.
Know how to use athletic equipment.
Avoid playing when very tired or in pain.
Make warmups and cooldowns part of your routine. Warmup exercises, such as stretching or light jogging, can help minimize the chances of muscle strain or other soft tissue injury. They also make the body's tissues warmer and more flexible. Cooldown exercises loosen the muscles that have tightened during exercise.
Increased emphasis on muscle strength and conditioning should be a priority for all women. Women should also be encouraged to maintain a normal body weight and avoid excessive exercise that affects the menstrual cycle. In addition, women should follow precautions for other groups.
After four weeks of grueling physical therapy, she was told she would not be able to play sports for at least nine months. For Kirch, a relentless competitor, not being on a team and not being able to play sports was devastating. She cried for days.
After consulting with a specialist, she had surgery on Sept. 4, 2008. Surgeons replaced her ACL with one from a cadaver. The surgery was deemed a success
After suffering through most of the school year not playing sports, she was cleared to play and in May of 2009 she started playing softball, one of her favorite sports.
She was pitching during practice - only her second time back on the field - when she hyperextended her left leg and the knee buckled.
"They took an MRI and the radiologist said it was torn but the doctor said it wasn't. He told me to rest for five weeks and then I could go play again. So I went to play again," she said.
Back on the softball field, Brittney was tracking down a fly ball going foul. As she went to catch it, her knee twisted and completely tore.
"I just kept saying, 'not again, not again,'" Kirch said.
The second knee injury ripped the menisci off her bone. The menisci are two pads of cartilage in the knee that disperse the weight of the body and reduce friction during movement.
Surgeons repaired the menisci and ACL tear at the same time. However this meant extra recovery time and again, Kirch was not expected to be able to play sports for another nine months.
What was most distressing to her was not the pain or the discomfort of rehabilitating her legs, it was the loss of identity she suffered by not being able to compete.
"I tried talking to therapists and stuff and all they say is 'do you have any other hobbies, do you do anything else?' It's not me," she said.
While rehabilitating, and trying to get back into basketball, Kirch's hips took the brunt of her uneven gait. As a result she tore the labrum in her hips. The labrum is the cartilage which surrounds the socket of the hip joint. She is receiving steroid injections but the hip injuries make it painful and difficult to run.
"I can't really run. My hips always go out of place," she said.
Some of her friends were supportive following her injuries. Some were not.
"At first some of them thought I was milking it. That it was just a charley horse," Brittney said, referring to her first knee injury. "They just dropped me off at my house."
After sitting out most of the school year, she was cleared to play and finished out the year playing golf and softball.
"She worked really hard at overcoming the injuries because in high school golf you have to walk and carry your clubs. And it's not easy when you have a bad knee," said her golf coach, Terry Roberts. "But she gave a great effort, especially at the end of the season when we had quite few 18 hole matches to play. She hung in there and stuck it out."
Roberts said it was great to see her finish the season.
"She wanted to be part of the team and she wanted to do what she could to contribute and she hung tough in there and stuck it out and I'm glad she did," he said.
Brittney still carries the emotional scars of her injuries.
"It's ten times harder than it used to be ... when I play sports I have to think about every little movement I make. I can't just do it. I can't cut certain ways. In softball I'll get little adrenaline rushes and I won't even think about it but then when I'm running bases I'll remember and I get scared. That's why I try to hit home runs."
Christopher Diem can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. His e-mail address is cdiem@miningjournal .net.