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Path to recovery: Holt returns to LOA softball following injury

July 24, 2019 - 14:24
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LOA's Elizabeth Holt is back on the softball field after breaking her leg last year

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    Elizabeth Holt rounds third base before scoring a run during a game at Cedar Shoals during the 2017 season. Holt missed all of 2018 with a broken leg but has returned for the 2019 campaign. PHOTO: Justin Hubbard


It was a routine drill that went wrong.

During a preseason practice in August 2018, Lake Oconee Academy’s softball team practiced running from first base to third. Elizabeth Holt’s turn came with less than 10 minutes to go in the practice.

That sprint from one side of the field to the other marked the last time Holt actively participated during the 2018 season. She slid into third base to complete the drill. In the process, she broke her left fibula.

Holt, commonly known as “Lizzy,” recalled the play this past Monday following one of this year’s preseason practices. She said she got “confused” about whether she should slide into third, which caused her to awkwardly dive toward the base.

That brought all of her weight down onto her left leg, forcing the break.

“I heard a pop,” Holt said. “I was like, 'Oh, maybe it was my cleat or maybe it was my hip,' because my hip will pop sometimes. … I came off the field and we propped it up, and it was really swollen. I was like, 'Oh, it's a sprained ankle. I can ice it tonight. It's been swollen before. It'll be fine.' The next morning, I woke up and it was still hurting a little. … Then, I went to get x-rays, and that's when they told me it was broken.”

Holt’s junior season was lost.

“I was just thinking, ‘I'm not going to be able to play another softball game,’” Holt said. “'There's no season left.’”

There was not supposed to be a practice the afternoon Holt’s injury occurred. The Lady Titans were scheduled to open regular season play versus Clarke Central, but the game was canceled.  

When Holt got back to the dugout after the drill, head coach Julie Brooker could tell the injury was bad.

“I knew, sitting in the dugout looking at her leg, that it was broken,” Brooker said. “But, of course, you're not saying anything as a coach. You're going to let the doctor do their job. When we got confirmation of that, I was really just crushed for her.”

That sentiment permeated the dugout.

“We were heartbroken for her,” said senior Cory Kimbrough. “You only have four years for varsity. One of hers got taken, and we were all sad for her for that.”

Much like Holt herself, Kala Jo Ogletree did not initially think it was a major injury.

“When I first saw it, I thought she was just joking around,” Ogletree said. “And then she sat back down in the dugout and I could see the pain in her face and how heartbroken she was that it happened. It was really heartbreaking. I cried about it. Knowing we've been friends for a while and to see that her season was gone, it was hard.”

Holt was unable to compete. She did not let the injury completely keep her away from the team, though.

According to Holt’s coach and teammates, she regularly attended practices, helping gather up buckets of balls using one of her crutches. At times, she would sit on a bucket and hit balls in an attempt to stay in a routine as much as possible.

During the games, Holt kept stats and helped in other duties.

If nothing else, Holt was an ever-present cheerleader for the rest of the Lady Titans.

“She was there every practice, every game,” senior Landon Beall said. “I feel like she really supported us all, even while she was out.”

The rest of LOA’s squad tried to return the favor by supporting Holt during the recovery process.

Kimbrough experienced a leg injury her freshman year, which cost her some games. Then, she missed practically her entire sophomore campaign due to an arm injury.

With Holt injured, Kimbrough saw an opportunity to try and help hold her up.

“I tried to remember [my experiences] to help her,” Kimbrough said. “If I was ever frustrated or anything, I would just remember that there's nothing you can do about it. She'll come back this year stronger. I tried to help her through that, but there's only so much you can say.”

In addition to Kimbrough’s empathy, Holt also had a unique shoulder to lean on in Ogletree.

Holt and Ogletree were friends well before last year, but the circumstances they faced brought them even closer together. Ogletree got through the first five games of the season and then suffered an ankle injury at Greene County in the sixth outing.

The injury sidelined Ogletree for most of the season. She did not return until she saw limited action during a region tournament play-in game at the end of the season.

Brooker’s preseason choices for team captains were both forced to the bench by injuries.

“We knew we were both going through the same thing,” Ogletree said. “We were always friends, but having that happen at the same time was awesome because we were both there for each other. We did a lot of stuff together, but it was stuff knowing that we couldn't go further than our limits.”

Soon after the 2018 season ended, Holt’s leg finished healing. She was cleared for physical activity in January.

The injury also cost her a chance to play for LOA’s basketball team, for which she competed her freshman and sophomore years. Fortunately for Holt, her third sport, soccer, did not start until after she healed.

Holt said LOA’s soccer coach, Chris Ingle, helped her get back into shape and ready for the soccer season after the injury.

Later in the season, Holt joined an upstart travel softball team coached by former LOA softball assistant and Putnam County native Demetrius Woods. Holt’s practices and games with the Elite Diamonds team helped catch her up from the work she missed last fall.

“With Coach Ingle, he knew about the injury so he was prepared to help me out and help me stay focused on healing,” Holt said. “He'd push me, but not to a breaking point where it would start hurting again. With Elite Diamonds, it helped getting focused back on softball. I had to learn some of the fundamentals again.”

Brooker said she believes Holt came through the recovery process and her return to physical activity via the soccer and travel softball teams stronger than before.

“It's been a test for her,” Brooker said. “It's just reinforced how much she loves the game and how much she wants to be out there. I think when something's taken away, you're a lot more thankful for it.”

The Lady Titans begin a series of scrimmage games this Thursday evening at home against Bethlehem Christian. It will mark the first time Holt has played a game in a LOA softball uniform since a preseason scrimmage versus John Milledge Academy the day before her injury occurred.

LOA’s regular season kicks off in August, and Holt can’t wait for her return to action.

“Last year, I couldn't really help that much,” she said. “I was kind of just sitting on the bench. … I wasn't on the field to do anything in the moment. But, this year, I can be on the field helping out. I can be leading on the field instead of standing over in the dugout just watching.”

Brooker said Holt has “owned” the first base position through the first several practices. Holt will also likely serve in the outfield.

She’s going to be a slapper, too, meaning she will be tasked with shuffling through the batter’s box and slapping her bat toward the ball.

After a recent practice, Brooker assessed Holt’s return to the field and said she expects her to have a strong season following the injury that robbed her of an entire season.

“I think that's 100 percent behind us,” Brooker said. “We're very fortunate that it is. A lot of times, kids have fear that it might happen again, but she's over it. She moved forward. She's healed, and I think she's ready to go.”