A Big Comeback
Oct. 9, 2009
By Larry Watts
It was nearly three years ago when it took Kelsey Maloney almost 30 minutes to walk up the stairs in her Centreville, Va. home. Now the 6-foot-3 redshirt freshman is stepping lively along the front row on Wisconsin's volleyball team and creating havoc for Badger opponents.
Maloney's rise to success as one of the top blockers for the Badgers certainly has not come without its hurdles. She was already behind the curve since she didn't start playing volleyball until eighth grade, but then her final two years of both high school and club play were all but wiped out, first by a serious case of Lyme disease and then by a double stress fracture in her lower back. A mere five-day stay in the hospital to have her gallbladder removed between her junior and senior years paled in comparison.
"I was doing a lab for AP biology where we had to go into the woods and collect some insects during the second week of school," Maloney says. "A tick bit me, which is pretty common in northern Virginia. It had happened to my mother 10 years ago."
But Maloney didn't know she had been bitten and no one could figure out why she was battling severe headaches and why her body was aching all the time.
"Lyme disease shows different symptoms in everyone," she says. "I was really run down and had no energy. Within three weeks I had numbness throughout my entire body. It got to the point it was taking me 20-30 minutes just to walk up the stairs because my legs were so numb.
"My neurological system was so out of whack. I couldn't complete sentences and I really don't remember a lot from that year. It messes with your head so much.
"My mother is a nurse and she could read the tests, but she couldn't figure it out," she added. "I just kept thinking I've been sick before and I'll get better. No one could figure out the problem, but I am very strong in my faith and I knew that would get me through it."
It wasn't until December, three months after the tick bite, that the doctors finally figured out it was Lyme disease. She was immediately placed on antibiotics and a permanent IV was placed in her arm for the next four or five months, forcing her to do all her schooling from home.
"I finally got back on the volleyball court in July, getting about 10-20 minutes at a time as I built up my strength," she says. "And just as I was getting back, I had to spend five days in the hospital to get my gallbladder removed."
Everything was finally going well for Maloney and she had her strength back by December. But at her team's first tournament in January, she developed a double stress fracture in her lower back.
"It was on both wings of my vertebrae," she says. "I was put in a body brace from the end of January to the end of May."
It wasn't until she attended a volleyball camp at the University of Wisconsin that July when she was able to get back on the court. And two weeks later, she was back in Madison for her first volleyball practice with the Badgers.
Maloney first became interested in attending Wisconsin while taking a road trip with her father and three younger sisters the previous summer.
"It was my dad's idea to rent the RV and it was probably one of my most favorite trips I've taken," she says. "My sisters are each two years apart and we took along our two dogs. We were on the road for 52 hours over 10 days. We went to Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, stopped in Chicago and then visited the University of Wisconsin, which I fell in love with.
"Both of my parents come from large families, so we stopped and visited with my grandparents up in New Richmond, Wis. for five days. I have a lot of family around the Twin Cities area and then we stopped and saw relatives in Kentucky on the way home.
"The toughest thing about being away at school is missing my sisters," she added. "We are all so close and have a lot of fun together. They all play volleyball too."
Because her junior and senior seasons had both been lost, Maloney basically had only three years of volleyball experience in her background, but that didn't keep her from approaching Badgers coach Pete Waite as a walk-on.
"Fortunately I had a lot of support from both my high school and club coaches," she says. "And I think Pete liked my attitude and he was willing to take the chance."
Of course, being 6-foot-3 didn't hurt her cause either.
"I really did love the idea of sitting out that first year," she says. "I hadn't really been playing at any level for the past two years, especially at that high pace. I was able to come in and do extra weightlifting each week, which was a big help in building my muscles back up. I did everything with the team but play -- practice, travel and warm up before the games.
"Everyone was so patient with me in the beginning. I don't know what was going through their minds because I was very weak and slow. I'm improving now and glad I can give something back to the team. I think my teammates and coaching staff see how much I love to play this game and how much I want to help."
Maloney is doing more than just lending a helping hand to her volleyball team. An elementary education major, she is heavily involved in volunteer work at the university and in Madison. She is a member of the Christian-based Campus Crusades, volunteers as a Younglife leader at Madison West High School, helps with a Bible study program on campus every Tuesday morning and has been an elementary school volunteer for the past two years.
"If my academic and volleyball schedules would allow it, I would like to take a missionary trip before I graduate," she says. "I'm very excited about the idea of going into teaching when I graduate. I've always loved working with kids. You have to be patient, but I just have a passion for it. Having three younger sisters and dealing with them has helped me a lot."
And Maloney can certainly teach them a lot about overcoming adversity.