Nichols was tenacious in recovery from injury

NEWTOWN SQUARE — Katherine Nichols was the first player to greet Amy Carnall, the new head softball coach and assistant principal at Delaware County Christian School.

It was September or October, the early weeks of Carnall’s tenure. She hadn’t had the chance to meet her new team. That, Carnall believed, was a work in progress, something she would tackle in due time.

When Nichols met with Carnall for the first time, offering her thoughts about the upcoming season, still many months away, Carnall was immediately impressed.

“Wow,’ she thought. “This kid is ready.’

Except, there was one glaring fact Nichols omitted from the conversation. For Nichols, it didn’t cross her mind to mention she had suffered a devastating injury the prior season. Why bother? She had worked so hard to come back, and was motivated to help lead a young team. Nichols would be one of only two returning seniors and the team’s captain.

The injury, which cost her the latter half of her junior season, is fresh in her mind a year later.

“One of my teammates and I were practicing sliding and diving, getting dirty. I slid home and my coaches were watching because we were working on this new hook slide, and I just slid weird,’ Nichols recalled. Then, before continuing, she let out a faint sigh.

“I got up and was having trouble breathing,’ she said. “When I first slid, I just thought I got the wind taken out of me. I didn’t think that anything was wrong, but then I couldn’t sit up straight. That’s when I realized that probably something else was wrong. After a few minutes, it started to set in.’

Nichols soon discovered that she had broken her back.

“A compression fracture of my T8,’ she said. “The stuff in between my discs was compressed and my bone fractured.’

Carnall would have never guessed that Nichols, a senior who will be studying international affairs with a minor in German at University of Georgia’s honors program in the fall, had overcome such long odds to get back on the softball diamond.

“She didn’t tell me about the back injury. Someone else pulled me aside and said, ‘ You know she broke her back and didn’t play the second half of (last) season,” Carnall said. “To her it was like, ‘ Oh yeah, that did happen, but it doesn’t matter.’ She was ready to play when we first talked.’

Nichols never imagined something so flukish could happen to her. The days after the injury, she was relegated to her recliner and bed at home, unable to do much of anything. By early May, she made a concerted effort to get active and be ready in plenty of time for her senior season.

“It was a couple weeks before AP exams, so that was really hard. I had to try to make up that work, so I was out of school for pretty much the rest of the year,’ Nichols said. “This past summer, I was already set up to do an exchange program in Germany, and so I was trying to get active so I could still go. I spent the month of May doing (physical therapy). I didn’t feel completely better, but enough that I could walk on my own and take care of myself. My school has a weight room, so I was there every day after school in the fall and winter with a trainer, trying to do the excercises and get back in shape.’

Once Nichols ramped up her rehabilitation, there was no slowing down.

“A funny thing … she just told me today that her first workout was CrossFit,’ Carnall said after last Saturday’s game against Marple Newtown. “That’s just her mentality.’

Nichols has been a tremendous role model for a young team. While Delco Christian has struggled to play consistent, winning softball in the first month of the season, Nichols has been a steady force at shortstop and in the dugout. And off the field … well, her resume speaks for itself.

“She’s the Head Prefect of the school, she’s going to Georgia’s honors college, and is the president of the National Honor Society,’ Carnall said. “That’s just who she is, but she’s come out this season and played hard. She has a hit in (almost) every game and batting close to .500. She’s been great.’

Nichols overcame her fear of sliding and has settled in nicely as the team’s captain. Most of all, she’s having fun playing softball.

“Even during workouts, my back would get sore some, so I was kind of used to that feeling. It’s going to be painful, but it’s good kind of pain,’ she said. “So, I was ready to go for softball, my throwing and fielding were fine. But then when we had to go practice, and sliding for the first time, it took me until the end of practice to work up the courage to slide again. But once you do it, it kind of came back to me like second nature.’

In her first season as coach, Carnall has been tasked with rebuilding a program that, not very long ago, was competing for District One Class A titles. Having a student-athlete like Nichols around certainly has eased the situation.

“She’s good at coaching her teammates,’ Carnall said. “She’s got credibility with her team. Whatever she says, they’re like, ‘ Well, Katherine will give everything she has and she won’t make excuses, so I shouldn’t make excuses,’ That’s the mindset you want. As a high school softball coach, I’ll get a few players at this school that can go on and play at a higher level. I’m here to teach these girls how to be athletes and how to approach life beyond softball. I think that’s the No. 1 thing you see in Katherine, is that her athletic pursuit is a part of her character. No excuses, she’s going to put it all out there and she’s going to strive for excellence.’

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