Share Your Story: Natalie Johnson
Following the footsteps of my mother and father, I was a student-athlete at the University of Iowa, playing softball from 2001-2005. My mother, who competed in track and field, and my father, a pitcher on the baseball team, were extremely influential in my decision to don the black and gold. I grew up listening to stories of their glory days as Hawkeyes and hoped that one day I would be so lucky to enjoy the same experiences as they once did.
When Coach Blevins initially expressed an interest in me, I knew immediately Iowa City would be my home-away-from-home for four years of my life. Those four years would end up being the best of my life. Before I ever stepped foot onto Iowa's campus and before I ever put on a Hawkeye uniform, I instantly gained a second family - a family that will continue on for years to come and one that I will always cherish.
There is one fear that every student-athletes shares: injury. Unfortunately, I experienced that fear first hand just three weeks before I graduated high school. While competing in the long jump at my district track meet, I landed awkwardly - and very painfully, for that matter. After screams, tears and brutally harsh pain, it was determined that I suffered a complete dislocation of my left knee.
My instant concern was whether or not I was going to be able to play softball at Iowa in the upcoming fall. My family and I immediately called Blevins to tell her the bad news. I was petrified of what might happen, but she put those fears to rest right away and put me in contact with Dr. John Albright, the orthopedic surgeon for the Iowa athletic department. Dr. Albright - who I, as well as several other Hawkeye student-athletes, like to refer to as "grandpa" - is one of the biggest reasons I was able to compete at the Division-I level again. After my initial meeting with him, in which he informed me that my injury was one of the worst he had ever seen, there was no question in my mind he was going to be the one to fix my knee. After a nine-hour surgery, four screws implanted into my knee and up to 16 inches of scars later, my knee was repaired as best as possible.
But that was the beginning of a very long road. I spent a year and half rehabbing my knee and would not have made it without the extremely positive support I received from Coach Blevins, my teammates, Dr. Albright and all of the Iowa athletic training staff. There were days when the rehabilitation was hard and depressing, but I wouldn't let myself quit and neither would my teammates nor the staff. I had gained a new, fairly large family and they were all in my corner - supporting and pushing me both mentally and physically so that I could come back and play.
I was able to play once again, and that first day I stepped out onto the field after being cleared to practice by Dr. Albright and the training staff was one of the happiest days of my life. Words could not express my excitement, but when I saw the excitement on my teammates and coaches faces, I knew that I would never find another group as special as that group is to me.
I was fortunate to be a female collegiate athlete and I will always carry with me the experiences that make me the person I am today. One thing I will never forget is the support and encouragement I received everyday at Iowa. With a family like that, nothing could stop me from playing and enjoying the best four years of my life.