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How difficult is it to overcome an ACL tear? A sit down with Ohio State softball’s Kennedy Kay

To make matters even worse, she tore it entering her freshman season.

As an athlete, one of the things you fear most is an injury. Especially an injury that can keep you out for the entirety of the season, like a torn ACL. Then, there’s the matter of whether you can play at the same ability as you did pre-injury.

I sat down with Ohio State redshirt-freshman pitcher Kennedy Kay to discuss her knee injury that made her miss her entire freshman season.

“I’ve loved playing softball my whole life, but once you don’t have it for a whole year, you’re like wow, I shouldn’t have taken that one tournament I didn’t want to go to for granted,” Kay said.

She remembers the injury like it was yesterday. It happened during the first game and the first tournament of the summer entering her freshman year at Ohio State.

She was pitching on wet turf and her cleat got stuck, causing her to fall down. She got back up, tried to pitch again and fell over once again. That’s when she realized that something was definitely wrong with her knee.

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Initially, her team doctor just thought it was going to be a meniscus tear, which would only result in her missing six weeks. That would’ve been best case scenario, as Kay said she would’ve obviously been able to pitch for Ohio State, as it was just the beginning of summer. However, her MRI results hadn’t come in yet.

Until they did.

“One day I was just driving around and I saw I got a notification on my phone. It was my MRI results and it said ‘fully torn ACL and meniscus.” I pulled over and thought ‘this can’t be right.’ There was a lot of big words and I’m like ‘I don’t know what any of this means,’ so I’m freaking myself out. My trainer confirmed the results, and I didn’t even know what to think.”

I called coach [Kelly Kovach Schoenly] and told her and obviously I’m a mess, like a head case in my car. Then I was like, you know what, I’m going to go to Bath & Body Works. That was the biggest check I ever dropped at Bath & Body Works in my life. I went there and then Chick-Fil-A just sobbing the entire time,” Kay said.

The pitcher credits Schoenly and her teammates, specifically her two roommates at the time — Kami Kortokrax and Reagan Milliken — for getting her through the injury, especially after her surgery. She said they would put her socks on for her, get her ice in the middle of the night and overall did their best to ensure Kay’s spirits stayed high.

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“That in itself was super important because you think it’s a very personal injury, but the people you surround yourself is how you get through it. If I hadn’t had anyone it would’ve been a completely different drive and determination to get back to where I am now,” Kay said.

Getting through that first month post-surgery was rough, but she said once she made it through that period, she adopted a more positive mindset. Seeing her teammates work hard at practice every day inspired her to put that same effort into her rehab, so she could get back on the field as soon as possible.

This did not go without setbacks, however. Four months after her surgery in July, she started to pitch again as part of the rehab process. She threw a pitch and her knee popped, and she said she knew exactly what it was. Kay walked straight out of the bullpen and into the Schumaker Complex to get her knee checked out without saying a word to anyone.

One MRI later revealed that she re-tore her meniscus.

“That was a very hard obstacle because the first surgery, yeah it was hard, but there was still slight hope that I would’ve been able to play that season. But after my second surgery, it was hard because it was like ‘what am I working for?’ Like it was hard to flip that switch and realize I am working for something, it’s just not going to be an immediate result,” Kay said.

Once she started reminding herself of the bigger picture and realizing how badly she wanted to play with her teammates, she started to kick the rehab process into high gear. She credits the injury for helping her mature a lot and making her a better person and teammate, even stating that she wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Kay also remembered how blessed she was to be in the position that she was in at Ohio State, and refused to let the injury to keep her down.

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15 months after her second surgery, she was named the opening day starter for the 2023 season.

“Honestly, I did not expect my name to be called. I was like, coach, you got a lot of trust in me! The way everyone reacted, they were just so excited and I was too, but I was like ‘I gotta act like I’ve been here before,’ Showing that the coaches and my team had trust in me to start the first game of the season against a ranked opponent (Georgia), a very good team, it just showed they had confidence in me and I need to have confidence in me to be successful,” Kay said.

Kay pitched 1.1 innings in her season debut. She has steadily been building up her innings since that first game on Feb. 10, and is looking better and better each time she steps in the circle. Who doesn’t love a good comeback story?

We are all rooting for you, Kennedy!