MURRAY — Injuries in sports are common, terrible, and sometimes truly devastating. This series will focus on high school seniors that suffered an injury that took away time from their passion — sports. Some cases are worse than others, but the one thing that remains true throughout is that as a senior in high school, there are no do-overs, no redshirts, no second chances to complete your full senior season in the sport you love. It’s simply over. For our first feature athlete, that line rings truer than it does for anyone else…
The Lady Laker volleyball team was battling with all they had against district foe Marshall County when senior Ellie Jackson crumpled to the floor in pain.
“I went up for a block on the right side,” Jackson said. “I went up, and I landed on one leg. My ankle started to roll, but I have really strong ankles, so my knee went instead.”
The crowd sat in absolute silence as Jackson laid there in agony until Calloway athletic trainer Jacob Vaughan carried her off the court. The severity of Jackson’s injury was unknown, so she was asked whether she would like to stay for the game or to go home.
“Those are my girls,” Jackson said. “There was no way I was going to leave my girls. It was Marshall. Even if it was anybody, I still would have stayed. Just the fact that it was Marshall, one of our district opponents, I had a little bit more motivation to decide to stay for my girls. I love them so much and I couldn’t imagine leaving them.They pulled the mats that the cheerleaders use over and sat me up so that I could lay and finish watching the game. So, I stayed and finished watching the game. Then, I crutched myself out.”
The Lady Lakers lost much more than a district match that night. They lost one of their leading scorers and their only senior.
Originally, Jackson had been told by her doctor that she did not tear her ACL and that it was only detached.
“He said that it peeled off my femur,” Jackson said. “Well, I went to a different doctor, and he said that I did indeed tear my ACL, and now, I have to have surgery again. A month after my first surgery, I went to the doctor, and I had a huge blood clot in my right leg from my hip to almost my foot. So I had to take a trip to Vanderbilt.”
Jackson was put on a blood thinner to assist with the clotting. It is suspected that she has a blood deficiency inherited from her father. But for the time being, that is only speculation. Jackson won’t be able to be tested for the deficiency until she is off the blood thinner in February.
Another con to the blood thinner is that Jackson didn’t just lose the remainder of her senior season of volleyball: she will now lose three other sports seasons as well.
“I can’t play basketball at all, and I can’t do softball or track now,” she said. “In basketball, I can’t play because I’m still healing from the ACL, and I still have to wait to see about the blood clot. If I get hit in the head or in the stomach with my blood clot, I have to go to the hospital because with my blood thinner I’m talking, there’s a higher risk of internal bleeding if I get hit, so basketball is not the sport for that.”
Jackson was absolutely heartbroken after hearing the news.
“I’m a very sport-oriented kid,” she said. “I’ve played softball since I was 5 years old. I was on the varsity track team in the seventh grade. I did varsity softball in seventh and eighth grade. I’ve done basketball my whole life. I’ve done volleyball for a shorter amount of time, but it’s still been there for a long time. I just had to all of a sudden stop. Everything that my life was stopped. I had to take a second and think. I thought to myself, ‘OK, what do I do now? I don’t have anything to do.’”
But rather than wallow in self pity, Jackson realized that there was something that she could do: support her teammates.
“I came to as many games as I could,” Jackson said. “I had my spot. I sat on the front row of the chair-back bleachers. I sat there every game and I was screaming my heart out cheering for my girls because it broke my heart that I couldn’t be out there with them.”
And Jackson’s girls felt just as passionate about supporting her throughout her injury as well.
“Before every game, we go in the locker room and pray,” Jackson said. “Right before I got hurt, my mom was diagnosed with cancer, so they prayed for my mom. The first time I came back, they said, ‘We’re going to play for Ellie.’ The coaches would check on me all of the time. Coach Melissa (Hicks) and Lindsey (Jones), they’re some of the sweetest people.”
Those two coaches actually coordinated to give this young athlete the closure she needed.
On Jackson’s scheduled senior night, Jones and Hicks asked Jackson if she would like to serve one last time for the Lady Lakers.
“Senior night, it was really scary,” Jackson said. “They had me rotate in so that I could serve. Once you serve, you have to come in and play back row. Well, I kind of just didn’t do that. I kind of hid in the back corner, and Adison Hicks and Kylie Stallings split the back row. They did so well. We thought that rotation was going to be a little rough, but no. They did amazing. They killed it. That was one of the best rotations we had.”
Of course it was hard for Jackson to not contribute more to the team that she loves so much.
“There was one ball that kind of went towards me, and I could feel myself going for it,” she said. “I didn’t, thank goodness.”
Nonetheless, Jackson was still extremely grateful for one last opportunity.
“We were talking about how I would be able to walk out and have senior night but I wouldn’t be able to play,” Jackson said. “That hurt more than not getting to do a whole bunch of other stuff. Not being able to drive, I didn’t care, but not being able to finish my last season in a sport that means so much to me, that hurt a lot. Just being able to do that, it made me okay with saying, ‘OK, I’m done.’”
As volleyball season came to a close and basketball season has begun, Jackson has continued to show her heart of gold. She is determined to be there for each and every one of her teammates.
“In basketball, I am EJ,” she said. “This is my last year to be EJ. I know it’s kind of confusing, but I’m there for my girls. I’m there for every single player of every single team that I’ve ever been on. This is my last year to be that, and I’m going to do it. No matter if I can play or if I can’t, I’m going to do everything I can to help them have a great season. In basketball they have a saying: leave your jersey in a better place. Even though I’m not wearing mine, I’m still trying to leave my jersey in a better place. I want one of the middle schoolers to come up and say, ‘I want EJ’s number’ in any sport. In track I want a middle schooler to come up and say, ‘I want Ellie Jackson’s jersey.’ Not because of how good I am or how great I do, just because I want to be that senior — the one that they can trust, the one that they can go to, the one that they believe in, the one that believes in them.”
Jackson understands that her not being able to participate in athletics is just as hard for her coaches as it is for her.
“It’s as tough for them as it is for me,” she said. “Lindsey cried. She was bawling her eyes out that night I got hurt and on senior night and at the banquet. She was tore up. I understand because she hated that I couldn’t finish. Coach Lindsey, Coach (Valerie) Waller, Coach Kady (Arant), and Coach (Mike) Wicker, I’m so happy that they have been my coaches, even if I can’t play for them.”