By Kathryn Arena '21 / Sports Information Intern
Resilient. Determined. Hardworking.
These are the words that undoubtedly describe Eastern Connecticut State University women's soccer player Emily Kratochwil of Stratford
Last season, the junior defender led her team into post season play, after capturing a share of the Little East Conference regular-season title with a record of 6-2. As the Warriors battled the University of Massachusetts Boston in the Little East Conference semifinals, the game took a turn for the worst.
As Kratochwil went to tackle an opposing player her knee locked, and she crumbled to the ground. "I can't even describe the noise [my knee made]" she recalled, "It was so distinct and so loud." After being assessed by the team doctor, the results were clear; Kratochwil tore her ACL and part of her meniscus, an injury that normally needs a least a full year of rehab.
The key word is 'normally', and Kratochwil's heart and desire for the game of soccer is anything but normal. After undergoing multiple surgeries and working hard to build her leg strength in the athletic training room, she is now back for the Warrior's 2019 season.
"Her drive and perseverance are off the charts," said head coach Chris D'Ambrosio. "Her desire to get back on the field is so strong." Kratochwil is still easing back into game by playing 20 minutes per half, and her weekly routine requires continuous rehab and icing.
Even though Kratochwil's recovery time was shorter than expected, she overcame many obstacles that could have diminished any chance of return for the 2019 season. Within a month of her season-ending injury, Kratochwil endured her first ACL reconstruction surgery. She was eager to start recovering, but from the moment she woke up, something felt off. "I was in immense pain," she recalled. "It was probably the worst pain I have ever felt in my life. I have never been in so much pain."
In the weeks following, it was hard to remain optimistic. Kratochwil attended physical therapy three times per week and her doctors saw little progress. "They would try to help me do very small and simple exercises, but pain was so intense. At times I was on the verge of crying," she said.
After trying time and time again, it was clear that her left leg was not getting stronger. Due to excess scar tissue around her knee, Kratochwil was not progressing. It limited her mobility, and left doctors with no choice but to go back in for a second surgery.
The mid-February surgery was a setback, but it motivated Kratochwil to take her rehab seriously. She spent much of her spring semester in the athletic training room with Eastern's team of athletic trainers. Kratochwil actively participated in rehab six times per week in hopes of making up for lost time. "I lived in the trainers room," she said. "I was there for basically three hours per day doing rehab."
Having two surgeries within two months was overwhelming for Kratochwil, and it was sometimes emotionally hard to stay on track. Her first days in the training room were filled with many tears and doubt. Julie Alexander, one of Eastern's athletic trainers, help Kratochwil with the emotional side of her injury.
"We took things day-by-day," said Alexander, a former volleyball athlete at Eastern. "Emily had some days that were good and some days that were bad. I spent time listening and I assured Emily that every athlete faces setbacks during the recovery process. We celebrated small successes because without those, she wouldn't have achieved her recovery."
Kratochwil's daily commitment to her recovery paid off. She proved to the staff that she was ready to be back on the field after successfully running and beating the team's fitness test. She was cleared to play at the end of July. "It just finally felt so normal," she said.
Kratochwil surprised her coaches with her strong comeback during preseason. She participated in each of the sessions and pulled herself from drills when she felt like she needed to rest. Kratochwil is now back to playing in games but is still careful with her knee. Her playing time is limited just to be cautious. "It's a work in progress," said D'Ambrosio. "If she gets back to where she was, and it might take a while, that would be phenomenal!"
Kratochwil continues to be an asset to the team with the minutes she is earning for this season. Her role in leading the defense and the midfield this season is crucial and has helped the Warriors with their 3-1 conference record thus far.
"Even though I still have limitations with being on the field, I am just so thankful and grateful to be able to play with my team again. Looking back on it, a couple months ago trying to run was a struggle and now I can do it without even having to think about it. I thought it was something I would never get back. It has been a long road and I still have ways to go to be fully recovered, but I am so happy to be able to train with my team. I'm so excited to see how far we go this year in the conference!"
A true Warrior on and off the field, Emily has proved that her heart stands with her team regardless of what gets in her way.