In the hospital, Grace Struttmann asked to talk to her parish priest, Father Jim Theby of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Washington, and he helped her through a traumatic time. Seminarian Patrick Russel, who served at her parish at the time, also helped.
“It was a close call,” she said about an ATV accident on July 4 that severed her pinky finger. “The trooper who worked the accident said it should have taken my leg and I would have bled out in nine to 13 seconds. That was an eye-opener for me. I thank God every day still that He kept me here because it showed me that I do have a purpose, and I hopefully will do something great with it.”
The accident, in which she was a passenger, threatened her ability to play volleyball. The senior was a key player on St. Francis Borgia High School’s team last year. After much hard work to stay in shape, she rejoined her team on the court against Lafayette on Sept. 5.
Lafayette was the state champion six of the last seven years in Class 4. Borgia, which plays in Class 3, defeated Lafayette, 2-1. Coming back after missing three tournaments and three games put Struttmann’s fears to rest.
“There was so much emotion,” she recalled. “The first kill I got, I looked up and I could see my parents standing. They were actually crying because they were proud and happy to see that I did get back. I was not sure that I would be able to because of the pain and sensitivity.”
She also felt the support of her teammates. Her hand is still sensitive and sometimes painful, but she said “I don’t know what it is about being on the court, I don’t know if it’s the adrenaline, but when I block a ball it doesn’t hurt.”
Borgia coach Andrea Beaty said though a doctor cleared Struttmann to play, it didn’t mean she was ready to have a ball hit her hand at full force. “The first thing we wanted to do was make she was OK,” Beaty said. “Obviously she played a critical part on our team last year as a right-side hitter. But when you hear something like that, that’s ‘life’ stuff. What’s most important is how she’s doing, how she’s recovering not just physically but emotionally and mentally too.”
Struttmann “goes 100 miles per hour,” Beaty said, noting that the week after the accident she was already doing strength and conditioning work. “From the moment it happened, it seemed the first thing on her mind was volleyball,” the coach said, citing her determination and positive attitude.
“At the end of the day we’re just so thankful she’s here with us and able to play,” Beaty said. “So many others aren’t that lucky. We’re very thankful for the responders, surgeons and doctors.”
Beaty wanted to ease Struttmann back into the Lafayette game, but after losing the first set, Beaty saw a lack of energy from her team and switched the rotation, starting Struttmann on the second set. “Sure enough, that first ball gets set and she goes to the ball and she gets the first kill,” Beaty said. “Everyone stood up and cheered. It was a big moment for her, for her family and for our volleyball family. It was good to see that joy in everyone’s eyes, especially her eyes. You talk about the biggest moment in your coaching history. I know I’m young and haven’t coached that many years, but that moment will stick with me forever.”
No one would blame a player who gives up under the circumstances, Beaty said, but Struttmann wouldn’t let it stop her. “Everyone could learn from that, and everyone on our team did learn from that,” the coach said.
Volleyball is magical for Struttmann. “When I’m on the court, time kind of stops and by the end of it, I don’t realize how long I’ve been out there,” she said.
She started playing volleyball at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Washington, then moved to club volleyball. In grade school, she played basketball too but has focused strictly on volleyball since entering high school.
Borgia players, especially the six seniors, have a connection that’s hard to beat. “We know how to talk with each other, we know how to work with one another and so we blend together really well,” Struttmann explained.
She’s also a big booster of the academics and warm environment at Borgia. She takes a hospital internship course in which she shadows doctors and nurses. She also works on the yearbook and enjoys writing. She’s in an honors college-credit sociology and psychology class. “So I have a lot of options” for the future, she said.
Lisa Johnston | [email protected] | twitter: @aeternusphoto
Grace Struttmann, who recently returned to the volleyball court after an ATV accident that severed her finger, blocked the ball against Duchesne High School. She said about the accident, in which she could have died, “I thank God every day still that He kept me here because it showed me that I do have a purpose, and I hopefully will do something great with it.”
>> More than wins
St. Francis Borgia High School volleyball
coach Andrea Beaty cites “triggering moments” that help teams put
competition in perspective.
Beaty referred to an ATV accident in
which one of her players, Grace Struttmann, was injured as well as as an
accident last month that killed Warrenton High School volleyball player
“I think we can all step back and realize it’s more
about what we’re learning as a family, as friends, how we’re trying to
grow as people, than it is about wins and losses. Those are the deeper
memories, the ones you make with your teammates, your coaches and even
your opponents,” Beaty said.
Players and coaches are blessed with
the opportunity to play the game, Beaty said. “It’s not by chance.
There’s definitely a greater meaning. And we’re very lucky with our
guardian angels up there.”
Struttmann’s accident — she’s playing
again at a high level — “showed how strong our group is” and made their
faith stronger, Beaty added. “Just like what happened to Grace, you can
quit and think ‘that sucks,’ but instead she kept going. It’s the same
with faith. There’s going to be times when you’re going to be sitting
there questioning, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ but there is a greater
purpose. Sometimes there’s not clear-cut answers. You’re going to have
to be OK with that sometimes. You just have to keep your faith and keep
trust that there is always something to look forward to even if you
don’t know what that is.”
In Struttmann’s case, Beaty said, the
accident brought overwhelming support and prayers, even from other
schools. “And that makes a difference,” Beaty said. “Sometimes even in
situations where it doesn’t give you answers, it gives you comfort.”
is fun and exciting, and people enjoy watching skilled players. But,
especially on the high school level, it’s about teamwork “and being a
family,” Beaty explained.
Besides ability, Beaty looks for a
player’s energy, work ethic, off-the-court behavior and academic
dedication. That’s demonstrated by Struttmann, as one example, Beaty
said. “I love all my kids so much, and we’ve all grown from things that