By Jason Haddix
For The Herald Bulletin
PENDLETON, Ind. —
On a soccer field in Kokomo, Ellie Swinney felt a pop in her right knee — without a second thought she kept playing, but when it popped a second time, career-ending thoughts ran through her mind.
Swinney is a senior at Pendleton Heights and was part of the 2013 girls soccer team that advanced to the sectional title match against Fishers, an experience nearly taken from her on that day in April.
What happened during the course of the next five months, coupled with her gritty defensive prowess, garnered her being named The Herald Bulletin's 2013 Girls Soccer Athlete of the Year.
“I think it is a huge honor,” Swinney said of the award. “I thought I was never going to play again and thought playing was cool, but having this honor is the coolest thing ever and I am so thankful and blessed for getting it.”
Playing for USF Real, her club team, she and an opposing player went for the ball and collided — hitting knees. Her initial thought was that it was painful, but the tenacious defender continued to play. It wasn’t until the second occurrence of the knee buckling from under her that she came to the sideline.
“I just kept going (after it popped) because it was nothing new — I always get hurt,” Swinney said. “I kept running, and it gave out on me again. So I came out and went to the bench.”
After a short rest, and showing her coach that she had full mobility and was able to perform soccer fundamentals, she re-entered the match only to have the unthinkable happen.
“Within the first minute of going back in, it popped again — my coach heard it from the sideline,” Swinney said. “I crawled off the field it was so bad.”
Her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and meniscus were torn.
She was in her second year at Pendleton after transferring from Carmel and had already become a leader and key figure for the Arabians. Her injury was a blow to the team.
“She was a leader her junior year, just not as a captain,” Pendleton Heights coach Mark Davy said. “We were excited coming into her senior year. The team voted her a unanimous captain, the only captain we had this year.”
After multiple visits with multiple physicians, Swinney finally had surgery on May 31 and was told that if she worked hard she would be able to get back on the field by November. With that time frame, her senior season would be lost.
Determined not to let that happen she worked tirelessly, and she was back on the field 49 days ahead of the surgeon's prediction.
“What got me motivated was it was my senior year and I was captain,” Swinney said. “I want to get back on the field with my girls and finish the season.”
Davy said this was one of many ways that Swinney led by example.
“The girls saw that she put in work everyday,” Davy said. “Everyday she was at practice, even though she was not cleared to play, she would be off to the side doing her sprints, doing other work that she could be doing.”
On Sept. 12, she ran on to the field, without restrictions, for the Arabians against Park Tudor.
“I was extremely surprised,” Davy said about her quick recovery. “I was kind of worried because what I had heard doctors say is they usually clear an athlete for at least five months.”
Swinney not only got to play for most of her senior season, 10 of the 18 games, she was able to play on senior night, which was a goal she had set during her rehabilitation.
With a loss to Fishers in the sectional finals, her soccer career at Pendleton Heights came to an end, but she hopes that the current and future Arabian athletes will remember what is takes to persevere during difficult times.
“I want them to know that there will be obstacles along the way," Swinney said, "but you can overcome those obstacles and achieve success.”