Every athlete has to deal with some set­backs, mental or physical, but some have it so bad they have to stop playing their sport long before they expect or want to.

But others just don’t know how to say no. Hillsdale College fea­tures two such ath­letes: vol­leyball player Lindsay Kostrzewa, and football player Steven Harding. Just a few months ago, both Chargers had trouble walking, let alone com­peting. Now, both are mean­ingful con­trib­utors to their respective teams.

How did they do it? Though their stories differ, they share at least two traits: per­sonal deter­mi­nation, and reliance on their team­mates.

Kostrzewa, a red­shirt junior, tore her ACL during her junior year of high school, which usually requires about nine months of recovery. But then she tore it again before it fully healed, turning nine months into two years. For­tu­nately, she had already com­mitted to Hillsdale, which pro­vided moti­vation.

“I missed my whole senior year of [high school] ath­letics, which was really hard, but it helped having some­thing to work toward already,” she said.

Yet even when she came to Hillsdale, she remained cau­tious in her on-court pur­suits to prevent any relapse, but didn’t let this stop her from doing every­thing she could off of it.

“The past couple of years have been very off-and-on, very touch-and-go,” she said. “So I decided to be a leader in other ways that I can, whether it’s off-court training or being known as a respon­sible teammate.”

And though she con­sidered leaving the team, Kostrzewa’s patience and dili­gence paid off. Thanks also to a new doctor and new treatment, she earned schol­arship status despite joining the team as a walk-on, and was named Second-team All-GLIAC in vol­leyball, sig­ni­fying excep­tional per­for­mance. Even so, she remains humble, and just hopes to keep doing what she’s doing.

“I wasn’t expecting any­thing like that at all. It was a sur­prise. I would attribute it all to my team,” she said. “I con­sider every time I get to play a blessing. It’s a priv­ilege to play for this school.”

Those who have observed Kostrezewa’s struggles over the years also attest to her resilience.

“I always thought she could come back and do some good things,” head vol­leyball coach Chris Gravel said. “Most people would have given up, and I would include myself in that cat­egory.”

“To have five surg­eries and come back is kind of unheard-of,” teammate and roommate Sydney Lenhart said. “She’s an awesome person and an awesome player. I’d be very sad to be on the team without Lindsay.”

Harding, a red­shirt senior, has faced debil­i­tating set­backs not once, but twice. In the summer of 2011, Guillain-Barre Syn­drome almost com­pletely par­a­lyzed him for two weeks.          Although he even­tually recovered, he sig­nif­i­cantly damaged bones and muscles around his ankle in pre­season practice in 2012, and was con­fined to a wheel­chair for two weeks, crutches for four to five, and a boot for three to four.

Doctors told him he had only an 80 to 85 percent chance of recov­ering his former strength. So while doing what he could for his team while con­va­lescing, and after initial hes­i­tance to work his way back onto the roster, he made his decision to return, ben­e­fiting from already having overcome incredible dif­fi­culties.

“You have to be men­tally, phys­i­cally, and spir­i­tually tough to overcome some­thing like that,” he said. “The team was the reason I came back.”

And come back he did. This season, he did not miss a single practice or game, and made key con­tri­bu­tions to gameplay as defensive back.

Those on the team credit his tena­cious char­acter.

“It matches his grit and deter­mi­nation. Most kids dread that time when they’re told their career could be over, and he heard it twice,” football head coach Keith Otterbein said. “All credit goes to him: his passion, his love for the game, and his desire to help the program in any way he could.”

Teammate senior Sam Landry, who went to high school with Harding, agreed.

“Once he said he was going to come back, anybody that knows Steve knew he was going to be back. If there’s anyone who could do it, it’d be Steve,” he said. “If I was hurt, Steve would be the first person I’d talk to.”