Stelk fights through third ACL tear

By Jake Knabel, Sports Information Director

A healthy 2014 soccer season would be the first in more than three seasons for junior-to-be Jaimi Stelk. The injury bug has been especially unforgiving of Stelk, biting her with three ACL tears spread over the last three years. The run of misfortune dates back to her senior year at Grand Island Northwest High School.

The tear of her left ACL in 2013 (second time tearing the left ACL) sidelined her for all but two of the Bulldogs’ 20 games. It may have seemed like an opportune time for Stelk to simply give the game up. It would have been an easy and understandable thing to do with another period of rehab staring her in the face.

“Most people I talk to say, ‘you should stop,’” Stelk said. “I have a couple people like (teammate) Marcie (Sindt) – she tore her ACL this year – and she was like, ‘OK, I know where you’re coming from. I’m here with you.’ She’s helping me through it. And my mom, she’s like ‘whatever you want to do, I’m there for you.’”

Stelk’s determination is a must as she continues on the comeback trail. The rehab process isn’t complete and there’s no guarantee she will be ready on Aug. 29 when the team opens up the 2014 season. On the plus side, Stelk knows exactly what she’s dealing with.

“It’s a slow, long process,” Stelk said. “You have to wait a few weeks to have surgery. Once that happens you work on range of motion every single day, and it’s painful range of motion. And then you have the crutches. Then you start walking and eventually running and building strength. It’s just really slow.”

The Grand Island native is spending the summer working out and training in Seward along with several teammates. She’s back to performing soccer-specific activities but there are still challenges that lie ahead, particularly on the mental side.

“Oh yeah, you can tell I’m rounding off my cuts,” Stelk said. “(Mentally) it’s way harder than the physical part of it.”

In fighting those significant mental battles, Stelk figures to earn plenty of respect from her teammates. Head coach Greg Henson is among those who have been impressed by Stelk’s burning desire to return to the pitch.

“Jaimi’s been an inspiration to the program in showing the type of determination and focus it requires to overcome adversity,” Henson said. “Most 20 year olds would’ve packed it in and said enough is enough after a third-straight ACL surgery, but not Jaimi. We met shortly after her surgery to discuss her options and she stated without hesitation that she wanted to play next fall.”

Some doubt did creep in prior to that conversation with Henson. After some internal struggle, Stelk found her answer.

“That thought is in my mind – ‘maybe I shouldn’t be playing,’” Stelk said. “It’s always going to be there. There’s just something telling me I should keep going.”

It seems all Stelk is doing this summer is going. The elementary education major works 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. every Monday through Friday at the Child Development Center and even volunteers at the People’s City Mission in Lincoln on Tuesday and Thursday nights. She also lifts weights three days a week early in the morning and takes part in soccer workouts on Mondays and Wednesdays. Says Stelk, “summer’s pretty packed.”

That schedule also includes regular visits to see Concordia athletic trainer Stacy Dahlkoetter. It’s all part of the process that will hopefully have Stelk ready to compete for playing time come August camp.

After having three-consecutive soccer seasons interrupted by ACL tears, Stelk would find a healthy bounce back campaign particularly rewarding.

“I wanted to play college soccer since I was little,” Stelk said. “I haven’t really had a chance to play. I just want that chance.”

The Concordia women’s soccer team has home scrimmages scheduled on Aug. 21 and Aug. 23 before officially beginning the 2014 season on Aug. 29 when AIB (Iowa) visits Seward for a 5 p.m. match.