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Seasons of Recovery Part 2: Kate Sarnacki spent Granby’s soccer and basketball seasons rehabbing her knee and supporting her teammates

  • Sarnacki, right, and Erin Mikalchus watch during soccer senior day Oct. 30, 2016 at Granby High School. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Kate Sarnacki, right, walks with teammate Tristen Burger after Granby lost to Millbury in the state soccer semifinal at Westfield State University, Nov. 16. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Kate Sarnacki high fives teammates on the sidelines during a state soccer semifinal game Nov. 16, 2016 at Westfield State University. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Kim Sarnacki, right, exercises under the supervision of Katie Gillis, at Attain Therapy and Fitness in Belchertown, Nov. 17, 2016. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Kate Sarnacki exercises at Attain Therapy and Fitness in Belchertown, Nov. 17, 2016. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Kate Sarnacki exercises at Attain Therapy and Fitness in Belchertown, Nov. 17, 2016. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Kim Sarnacki, right, exercises under the supervision of Katie Gillis, at Attain Therapy and Fitness in Belchertown, Nov. 17, 2016. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Kate Sarnacki, right, cheers beside Olivia Murray as the Granby boys team plays against Monson in the Western Massachusetts Division 4 semifinal, March 8 at Curry Hicks Cage. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Kate Sarnacki, right, and Maddie Sexton use hand gestures during a timeout to encourage teammate Nora Young to shoot more 3-pointers against Easthampton, Feb. 20. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Kate Sarnacki, of Granby, cheers for her team during a basketball game against South Hadley that was part of the Spalding Hoophall Classic, January 13 at Springfield College. She is sitting beside her assistant coach, Fan Gaudette. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Kate Sarnacki exercises her left knee during a physical therapy appointment at Attain Therapy and Fitness in Belchertown, Oct. 28. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Kate Sarnacki gets into her car after physical therapy at Attain Therapy and Fitness in Belchertown, Oct. 28. Once she could bend her left knee 90 degrees, she was able to begin driving again. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Kate Sarnacki, center, explains her desire to do more walking on her left leg to Katie Gillis, right, her physical therapist, during her appointment at Attain Therapy and Fitness in Belchertown, Oct. 28, four weeks after her ACL surgery. Gillis said that slow, steady progress is best and that overwork could cause swelling and delay the healing process. Kate's mother, Kim Sarnacki, left, listens. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Sarnacki walks on her left leg for the first time four weeks after her ACL surgery during physical therapy at Attain Therapy and Fitness in Belchertown. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Kate Sarnacki, left, gets some support from teammate Erin Mikalchus as the team gathers on the field for senior day Oct. 30 at Granby High School. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Kate Sarnacki, center, celebrates soccer senior day with her parents, Mike and Kim Sarnacki, Oct. 30, 2016, at Granby High School. Kim is holding their dog, Bandit. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Kate Sarnacki, front left, holds hands with Analise Huertas, 7, during soccer senior day Oct. 30, 2016 at Granby High School. Huertas plays on the Granby Athletic Association Under 8 team. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Kate Sarnacki high fives teammates on the sidelines during a state soccer semifinal game Nov. 16, 2016 at Westfield State University. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS



@kylegrbwsk
Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Editor’s note: Granby High School senior Kate Sarnacki injured her left knee at the beginning of soccer season. The injury sidelined Sarnacki for two athletic seasons. The Gazette followed her road to recovery. This is part two in a three-part series.

BELCHERTOWN — Kate Sarnacki lay on an examination table at ATI Physical Therapy. The Granby senior was three weeks into physical therapy as part of a rehabilitation program after tearing multiple ligaments in her left knee.

Katie Gillis, her physical therapist, needed Kate to transition to lie on her stomach. Kate hopped off the table onto her right leg, keeping her injured left leg straight and off the ground, pivoted around the table and lay down on her stomach.

“You just made that so difficult,” Gillis said.

“I didn’t have my brace on,” Kate said. “I was scared.”

“That’s the most awkward way I’ve ever seen someone roll on their stomach under 70,” Gillis joked.

“I do want to show you how to walk,” she added, demonstrating the proper walking form — heel to toe.

At that point Kate was still using crutches but would soon walk without them. She wanted to be off the crutches completely by the coming Monday, Oct. 31, so she could dress up as her math teacher, Rebecca Lewison, for Halloween. That prompted a negotiation with Gillis.

“I was going to use my crutches all weekend,” Kate said.

“You’re in a period of vulnerability,” Gillis said. “I’m all for pushing to an extent. One crutch at home, two outside.”

“That’s fair,” Kate replied.

Such negotiations were common during the early weeks of Kate’s rehab. Always the competitor, she always wanted to push and reach the next stage. But she also recognized the peril of doing too much and jeopardizing her return.

She knew she’d have to miss soccer and basketball seasons but she was determined to make it back for lacrosse.

‘Coach’ Sarnacki

Kate spent the rest of the soccer season after her injury standing next to coach Bob Weaver.

She attended as many practices and games as she could, bringing a pillow to prop her leg up before she could stand or sit on the bench. Even if they couldn’t see her, Kate’s teammates heard her.

“If Kate’s around, you’ll definitely know she’s around,” Granby sophomore Summer Molin said. “She’s loud, and she’s just so bubbly.”

Kate tried to impact the game with her eyes and voice since she couldn’t with her feet. She became a kind of assistant coach.

“Even during halftimes of games, if she saw something she was not shy about voicing her opinions,” Weaver said. “I like that she was a senior and she was part of the leadership team. We always let her say her piece.”

The players also liked having her around. Weaver was a coach in his first season with a Granby team that had experienced three straight years of turnover in that position.

“We just needed someone that we felt extremely comfortable with that would give us positive and negative feedback if we needed it,” Molin said. “We’re all friends, so she’s our friend-coach.”

Other than playing, Kate performed every duty expected of a senior. She mentored Granby’s young players and lifted their spirits through a second straight sectional championship and state semifinal loss.

“When I was on the field and I’d come off kind of distraught, she’d always pull me aside and look at me and tell me I need to play my game,” Molin said. “If anyone wanted any kind of laugh, encouragement, it’d be her.”

If she ever felt down or frustrated about her rehab, Kate made it a point to keep it to herself. She didn’t want negativity leaking out to her team.

“You definitely need to vent. I didn’t hold everything in,” Kate would later say. “I had a lot of emotions and stuff I had to deal with. I kept it to myself and my parents.”

Her teammates only saw smiles.

“She’s been such a good spirit,” Granby sophomore Madison Sexton said. “She’s been so positive.”

To the gym

Doctors cleared Kate to run again in December, three months after her surgery. The focus of her rehabilitation shifted toward strengthening the muscles in her leg that had atrophied in the brace.

In order to return to sports, the muscles in her left leg needed to be at least 90 percent as strong as her right. To reach toward that goal, she followed a strength training program in addition to physical therapy.

The day after the Patriots won the Super Bowl, Kate began with a few minutes of side shuffling on a treadmill. She started the strength training portion with 15 leg presses at 45 pounds, always with her injured leg first. It continued across other weight machines and a squat rack before Kate picked up a medicine ball, touched it to the floor, shuffled two hops to the left, touched it to the floor again and shuffled back.

Later that night, Sarnacki’s basketball teammates faced Monson. Kate Sullivan made her season debut after her own ACL recovery. Sarnacki knew she had no chance of playing this season, but harbored a faint hope of taking to the court during her senior night game against Hampshire Regional.

“I want to score. Maybe go out for the start or something and get a basket,” she said during the workout. “I don’t know if I want to throw a half-court shot and see if it goes in or hit a layup and say I got to score on my senior night.”

Kate sat next to assistant coach Fan Gaudette for the entire season wearing her No. 4 jersey and full uniform, left leg bouncing nervously. Her name also appeared in every scorebook for the year.

While she didn’t get a chance to play during the regular season, Sarnacki left her fingerprints in other ways. She took her teammates under her arm as they checked out of games, calmed them down and joked with them to keep the mood light.

Against Monson, freshman Nora Young picked up an early third foul.

“What are you doing?” Sarnacki asked her with a smile as she came to the bench. She sat next to Young until she returned to the floor, pointing out the game’s finer points. When Young eventually fouled out, Sarnacki welcomed her back with a look conveying equal parts “What did I tell you?” and “I got your back.”

“She just got everybody going. That part of it was easy. She always related great to the younger kids on the team,” coach Tom Burke said. “That was natural for her to do that. The biggest thing was the presence on the bench for games was incredible.”

Kate didn’t play on senior night against Hampshire. The game was too close and intense to put her on the floor with a still-weak knee. She thought it would be her last chance to play a high school basketball game until she saw the rosters for the annual IAABO Board 28 Hampshire-Franklin County All-Star Game on St. Patrick’s Day. The committee included her on the East team coached by Burke as a tribute to her career, which ended with 901 points.

At the start of the game with no one around her, she missed three 3-pointers before calling it off and checking out of the game. Her last shot bounced out off the inside of the rim.

“I don’t want to waste anybody’s time,” she said. “I would have liked it if I made it (the basket).”

Later that night after the game, Kate talked to Burke, whom she’s known since fifth grade, about the upcoming lacrosse season and getting an ACL brace to wear once she returned. She confided a worry that had been building through her runs and other exercises leading into lacrosse season.

“I gotta get in shape.”

Kate ran or worked out six days a week in addition to physical therapy and practice conditioning. Ready or not, she’d know at her sixth-month check-up whether she would see the lacrosse field.

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com.