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.”