Sydney Reichenbaugh’s toughness has never been questioned.
A four-year varsity member and a captain of the Marshall girls’ soccer team, she was noticeably the only girl to suit up for the Redhawks football team this fall.
But it was on the gridiron on a late October night that a promising senior season in soccer was put in jeopardy.
In the fourth quarter against Battle Creek Central, in a game she had already registered a tackle and was 4-for-4 on extra points, Reichenbaugh successfully booted a 35-yard field goal — her first of the season. Seconds later, she was on the ground, writhing in pain.
Reichenbaugh’s right plant leg was hit on the play, breaking her fibula and tibia bones in half. By all accounts — including her own — it was a gruesome injury.
“At first I was more in shock. I didn’t believe it was actually happening,” Reichenbaugh said. “Then I rolled over and my knee came, then later my foot came and it just popped and crunched and nasty… Then I was in shock, so I never cried. Then I got in the ambulance, I realized I was missing a soccer tournament (with) a bunch of recruiting. So that’s what made me cry. I was in so much shock that didn’t know what to do. It hurt, but it didn’t faze me until the next day that I’m stuck like this for three months.”
A steel rod was put in place from Reichenbaugh’s knee to her ankle, and she also had two screws inserted. Doctors originally put her recovery timetable at five months, which would have had her easing her way back with the soccer team by mid-season.
“They thought I wouldn’t be walking without crutches for three months, and thought I wouldn’t be playing for at least five,” Reichenbaugh said. “I was walking without crutches a month-and-a-half, and I was back playing after three months, back playing 100-percent after four months.”
Marshall girls’ soccer coach Adrian Harkey said Reichenbaugh’s quick recovery was both ‘amazing’ and ‘unbelievable.’
“For the next week, as people started to find out, the first question everybody asks is, ‘What’s going on with Syd? Is she going to be able to play?'” Harkey said. “And I told everybody, I said if there is a person, if there is a kid who can come back from a broken leg who wants to play soccer this spring, it’s Sydney. Because she just has the internal fire to play soccer — she loves it.”
Reichenbaugh was warned by many about the possibility of getting injured in football. But despite seeing her season end on a stretcher, she harbors no regrets about playing.
“If I could do it again, I would do it again in a heartbeat. I loved it,” Reichenbaugh said. “I get along with guys so much better. There’s no drama. They’re just like my brothers. (The injury) was harder for them than it was for me personally, because I was like their little sister and they didn’t want anybody to touch me.”
Reichenbaugh will take the field tonight when Marshall (10-6-1) hosts Brooklyn Columbia Central in the first round of districts. The Redhawks are currently ranked No. 7 in Division 3, and have won three consecutive district titles.
“It just shows what kind of kid she is. She wanted to get back,” Harkey said. “She went to the therapist probably more than she was required to. She wanted to get back, and she’s had a great year… It’s like she wasn’t even injured.”
While Reichenbaugh is back healthy, the Redhawks won’t be at full strength to begin the postseason. Senior goalkeeper Kelsey Postema, who is committed to play Division I soccer at Oakland University, recently went down with an ankle sprain. There is a possibility she could return to the Redhawks lineup, but that would require Marshall to win a district title.
“Still pretty unpredictable as far as healing, which is almost harder,” Postema said. “We have enough talent on this team to do anything we set our minds to, with or without me. I just want to be there selfishly, because it’s my last chance.”
Postema added that Reichenbaugh has been a big support as she tries to bounce back from her own injury.
“I think she’s one of the most talented players to come through Marshall, and had that not happened to her I think she would have had broader options for next year,” Postema said. “It definitely keeps things in perspective. It was a shock at first. But we all just work together. She’s definitely been a great support. ‘I know how you feel. If you need anything, come find me.’ It’s nice to know everybody has your back.”
While Reichenbaugh did miss some opportunities to be recruited because of her injury, her play on the soccer field this season was enough to impress coaches at Division III Trine University (Ind.), where she plans on playing next season.
Breaking her leg was far from the worst pain Reichenbaugh has experienced during high school. In 2011, she lost her father, Jeffery Reichenbaugh, after a year-long battle with cancer. She now sports a couple of tattoos — including one with his initials ‘R.A.R’ — in his memory.
“It’s only made me stronger. It made me open my eyes and realize that there is a life beyond that. I can’t just sit there and dread on it, and just think, ‘What if he were here?'” Reichenbaugh said. “I have to think, he’s up watching me and he’s proud of me up there. It’s not easy. I think about it probably at least twice a day. With my tattoos, it’s just a reminder that he’s there, and even though he’s not there, he’s looking down on me.”