FREMONT – With a runner in scoring position Monday afternoon, St. Joseph Central Catholic shortstop Josie Weickert fielded a hot grounder off the bat of Clyde’s Adriana Sanchez.
With the cool of a seasoned veteran, Weickert moved to her left, fielded the ball and threw out Sanchez at first, ending the scoring threat and the inning.
She made the play look easy. But it was just her third softball game in four years.
Weickert went out for the Crimson Streaks softball team despite not having played since eighth grade. Weickert’s ability to field, throw, hit and run are all the more astonishing given her athletic career could have easily been ended years earlier by a pair of catastrophic injuries.
“I’m not going to lie, I broke down and cried a little bit sometimes,” Weickert said. “It’s just perseverance and the want to play sports. That’s what kept me going.”
A simple layup
It’s something she had done thousands of times before and never given it any thought. When Weickert stole the basketball in the waning seconds of a game against Clyde her sophomore year, she followed her instincts and went to the basket for two easy points.
When Weickert landed, her right knee buckled. She tore her anterior cruciate ligament and strained her meniscus.
Surgery that included a replacement ACL from a cadaver followed. She then did months of rehabilitation at the Herbert-Perna Center at ProMedica Memorial Hospital in Fremont. Every other day, she worked on breaking down scar tissue and getting functionality back in the knee. She rode for miles on stationary bikes and repeated hundreds of leg presses and squats.
She returned to play basketball as a junior. The knee was ready. But, Weickert hadn’t recovered mentally.
“I was really shy with the ball. I turned into a passer,” she said. “I just wasn’t aggressive like I used to be. It was really hard mentally because there was always that scare of ‘I might do it again,’ and ‘I don’t want to overdo it.'”
Midway through the season the strain became too much. The Crimson Streaks followed a Friday night game with a Saturday scrimmage against Fremont Ross. Once again, Weickert went up for a layup and came down to find all of her work had come undone.
“I honestly didn’t think I’d ever play any sport again,” Weickert said.
A torn meniscus and a partially torn ACL, in the same knee as before, ended her basketball career.
“The day of her surgery, she knew she was never going to go back to playing basketball again,” Josie’s mother Amy said. “Ava Stepanic was taking her spot so she had me go to the game and give Ava her jersey.”
After another surgery to repair the damage to her ACL, another round of rehab ensued. This time, she worked out with SJCC track and field coach Paul Grahl in the school weight room.
Weickert recovered in time to run track for the Crimson Streaks last spring. She ran the 400-meter dash and the 4×400 relay.
Once again she discovered the mental difficulties of returning to athletics to be at least as challenging as the physical ones.
“The biggest mental hurdle was knowing I wasn’t as good as I used to be,” Weickert said. “Trying to get over that was the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do. Knowing that I need to work harder at this because it’s not as easy like it was before. I was lugging around this big brace during track (season) and it was giving me blisters.”
Throughout her senior year, the former three-sport athlete had been relegated to life as a spectator. She sat out volleyball season and became the statistician for the basketball team. As spring approached, she yearned to return to athletics but the difficulty she encountered on the track remained on her mind.
“Not being around my friends and being a part of that team sport, I really missed it,” Weickert said. “It’s my senior year and I wanted to be with my friends and all my friends play softball. I figured last year was a struggle with track and I wasn’t as good at track because of my injuries so I thought I might be better at softball.”
Back in the game
Despite a four-year layoff from the diamond, Weickert has been a pleasant surprise for SJCC’s first-year coach Sarrah Ottney, who suddenly found herself a shortstop.
“I didn’t know what to expect from her when she came back out,” Ottney said. “(Shortstop is) where she wanted to play and she convinced me that’s where she should be. She shows up, she plays hard. She’s an athlete.”
Though her parents were hesitant for Josie to make another comeback, seeing her on the field, competing once again, has become a point of great pride.
“I was nervous and I made sure it was cleared with her doctor,” Amy Weickert said. “I said to her, ‘It’s your decision on what you want to do, you’re the one who has to live with the pain.’
“But it’s a lot of fun to see her so excited and having so much fun because she hasn’t been able to do that in a long time. And she’s handled it like a trooper. I don’t know if I could have been able to handle it as well as she did.”
Josie Weickert looks comfortable on the diamond. In the Crimson Streaks’ win over Clyde, she ably dropped a sacrifice bunt to move the runner and hustled safely on base on an error. Later, her twice reconstructed knee brought her around to score.
She had to learn how to slide head-first, not daring risk another knee injury, but getting back into the batter’s box after so many years away from the game was a smooth transition.
“It just kind of came back to me,” Josie said. “It never left, really.”