LUSK – High school athletics take a toll on teenagers in many ways – mentally, emotionally and physically, in addition to peer pressure, schoolwork and responsibilities at home. The four years competing for their hometown fans, coaches and families go by so fast many do not realize it is such a small part of their lives, but for Niobrara County seniors Bryn Bruch, Jasper Caldera and Courtney Rowley major injuries have made this final season very different, and valuable.
Caldera tore the ACL, MCL and meniscus and had two bone contusions in his left knee midway through his junior football season costing him a wrestling season.
“I took a hit and when I got up, I couldn’t walk and knew something was wrong,” he said.
Rowley did essentially the same thing to her left knee three games into her senior volleyball season and is currently rehabbing to get back on the basketball court. It’s very similar to what she did to her right knee during the summer before her sophomore year.
“We were warming up. I had a good set and when I went up, I felt a pop and knew what happened based on my first one,” Rowley said.
Bruch’s injury is a bit different, as she played through pain last winter with a dislocated right shoulder and torn labrum.
“I tried to play through it with rehab and a big, ugly brace, but after basketball, I had an MRI with a 90% chance of it happening again,” she said. “They went in and put nine anchors in and sewed it all up.”
Bruch rehabbed all summer and rejoined the volleyball team after the season had already begun.
Rowley has been doing physical therapy in Casper a couple times a week for three-hour sessions as they work to regain her hyperextension in the knee and hips.
“They have me doing ellipticals, treadmills and starting the process of running and jumping to get my strength back,” she said.
Caldera’s rehab process was very similar to Rowley’s. He worked to get back for track and field.
“It was kind of scary doing it, but that’s what I had to do,” he stated. “I was on schedule for track season, but then COVID happened.”
Typically, a full rehab is 8-10 months, but both Rowley and Caldera have pushed hard to get back doing what they love on a much shorter timeline.
Caldera played basketball over the summer with friends at Northside Park but didn’t feel much pain afterwards.
“I did a lot of running and it would hurt a bit after that,” he said. “I was a bit nervous at the beginning of football, but once we started hitting, I got used to it.”
Rowley, on the other hand is trying to condense her comeback into a small four-month window.
“If I want to keep my timeline and return in late January, I have to get that hyperextension better,” she said. “Sometimes I’m a little sore after PT, but I’m not in pain. I had a little setback recently but am back where I need to be.”
Bruch wasn’t cleared to use her shoulder over the summer but noted that, “Passing and setting weren’t too bad but hitting was the thing that made it hurt and I didn’t get to serve.”
Despite a high level of anxiety, Caldera made it through a very successful football season and is off to a fine start on the mat, while the girls have played hoops together since fourth grade and want to finish what they started, they haven’t been able to practice in unison with their classmates.
“That first scrimmage, deep down I was terrified, I didn’t really want to play,” Caldera said.
Bruch added, “I was really nervous, and my mind went through so many emotions.”
“It’s so scary,” Rowley commented.
It got better each week for Caldera and Bruch while Rowley creeps closer to her goal.
“Like Jasper said, once the adrenaline gets going, and how badly I want to be out there with my team, that gives me the drive,” Rowley said.
Graduation will send them on their separate ways but for the three longtime 2021 classmates, this is a shared experience that hopefully they can look back on and grow from.