Physical injuries are painful enough, but some injuries impact you on a deeper level. For Kaytlynn Drake, those were the types of injuries that she dealt with during her career at Norwood High School. Over a 4-year journey she experienced mountaintop highs, and valley lows that will stick with her for the rest of her life.
As a Freshman, Kaytlynn earned the honor of playing on her Varsity basketball team. More than just playing, she broke records. By shattering the Freshman scoring record, she earned both all conference and all-district awards. She was a difference maker early in her career. Her Freshman season, the team finished with a 20-8 record, making a deep run in the sectional tournament. After an impressive Freshman season, Kaytlynn was poised to become one of the rising stars in the state of Missouri.
The summer after her Freshman year, she couldn’t imagine the turn her basketball career and life was about to take. June 16, 2020. A normal day for Kaytlynn, including an open-gym with her teammates. As with most summer days, the girls were divided into two teams, practicing as usual. Kaytlynn still remembers the possession where she drove in for a layup. A pop. Excruciating pain. The worst news for a young, up and coming star basketball player. Within hours, Kaytlynn got the news that her left ACL was torn, and she was now on a 9-12 month recovery.
With nearly a year recovery being required, Kaytlynn had to miss her entire Sophomore year. While missing an entire season was difficult enough, it was even tougher seeing her team struggle without her on the floor. That season, the team ended the year with a 1-22 record. For Kaytlynn, this was devastating. Although she was doing everything she could by attending practices and encouraging teammates, she felt incredibly helpless. Watching the losses rack up, Kaytlynn shifted her focus to the light at the end of the tunnel: her recovery.
Recovery wasn’t easy for Kaytlynn, either. Being constricted to a painful brace, and intense rehab sessions were grueling over the 10 month rehab stint. This entire time, she thought of her teammates and basketball, the game she loved. Her why was bigger than her pain, and she persevered with a positive attitude over the 300+ days of recovery. In June of 2021, over an entire calendar year later, Kaytlynn was ready to make her comeback in a big way.
The Summer of 2021 was full of basketball camps for Kaytlynn to try and make up for the lost time of playing over the last 12 months. On June 28th, 2021 Kaytlynn and her team were playing in a team summer camp. With her mind and heart focused on her recovery, Kaytlynn was grateful and excited to be back on the floor with her teammates once again. In that game, she vividly recalls giving up a 3-point shot and being frustrated about her defensive effort. In a short time, the previous defensive possession was the last thing on her mind.
After giving up points on the defensive side of the ball, Kaytlynn was dribbling down the court to set up her team's next offensive possession. As she crossed half court, she made a jump stop, a move she had made thousands of times. But this time, something was different. Another pop. Pain. The same pain she’d felt a year before. But, on the other knee? This couldn’t be, could it? Kaytlynn remembers questioning why this was happening, and what was going on. She recalls the uncertainty of the situation vividly.
“I kept asking myself why am I the one going through this? My coach and I had a difficult conversation where he asked me to consider, why not me? Even though my situation was tough, his honest response helped put my injuries into perspective.”
Even with her improved mindset, the reality of the situation was another 10-12 months of work on her other knee. The same exercises and recovery she just completed over the last year were now needed to be done once again. The return of the painful brace and intense rehab sessions. Another season of watching and cheering her teammates on from the sidelines. Another year of feeling helpless as her team won only 2 games, finishing the season with a 2-24 record.
Fastforwarding to June, 2022, Kaytlynn was in a familiar position. Her ACL recovery was complete, and she was once again committed to becoming the player she had been before her injury. There was only one problem, she had not been able to use both of her legs for two full years. From both a physical and mental standpoint, her game was not at the same place that it was two years before. Her Father Matt recalls her personal trainer having concerns about her jumpshot ever returning to pre-injury form.
“Her trainer thought that she may never get her jumpshot back to where it was before she was hurt. He told us that her muscle-memory needed to be re-trained and that she would have to get a high volume of shots to have a chance at bouncing back.”
After hearing this, Matt immediately felt a desire to commit to his daughter's recovery in the same way that she had. Without much thought or planning as a family, they decided to purchase the Dr. Dish Rebel+ to assist with her recovery. 1,000 or more shots per hour would provide the on-demand environment that Kaytlynn would need if she was ever going to be the player that she was before she injured both of her knees.
That summer, Kaytlynn couldn’t wait to get to work. She was shooting endlessly on their new Dr. Dish Rebel+ working rep by rep to build her jumpshot back from the ground up.
After a summer of rebuilding, her senior season had finally arrived. Two years of being on the sidelines at games and practices, countless rehab sessions, tons of support from coaches, and tens of thousands of jump shots over the off season had led up to this moment. Doubts still remained, though. Would Kaytlynn be the same player that she was before her injury? She still remembered some of her physicians and trainers saying that she may never be able to shoot or play at the level she had during her successful Freshman season. Once her senior year began, the doubts quickly faded.
“My faith in God got me through these crazy injuries, and the Dr. Dish helped me get my confidence back on the floor.” Recalls Kaytlynn.
Kaytlynn and her team battled all of her final season, and trusted that the results would follow. Game by game they kept gelling as a unit, and Kaytlynn quickly regained her confidence in her shot and beyond. As the season ended, they finished with a 22-6 record, positioned to make another run in sections.
As for Kaytlynn, she was honored individually for her comeback season, as well. She earned all conference, all district, and all-state honors for her performance through the year. The team continued to win, earning them a trip to the State Tournament. After making a deep run to the Final 4. Kaytlynn’s basketball journey was finally complete. What will her Dad most remember about the incredible ups and downs she experienced?
“More than anything, I am proud of her. She is such an inspiration. Yes, she is my daughter, but she is also my best friend.”
Kaytlynn's commitment and dedication is an incredible example of what it means to Be Better Every Day. Some days for Kaytlynn, being better simply meant attending a practice even though she couldn’t physically participate. Other days, it meant getting 1% better during her rehab session. Whatever the situation, her attitude and competitive spirit inspires us all in our individual pursuit to Be Better Every Day on and off the basketball court!