Earlier this spring, I visited an athletic training facility of a university in Florida. The facility is staffed with several athletic trainers, and it was abuzz with athletes as I was being given a tour. Out of curiosity, I asked Kaley, one of the trainers, what attracted her to pursue a career in athletic training, and she said it’s the athletes and the ties that bind her to them. When I asked her to explain what she meant, she told me the story of Lesley, a softball player for the university who became the 2016 conference player of the year in her junior season and was instrumental in getting her team to the World Series.

During practice last fall, Lesley was making a routine play when she felt a pop in her right knee, followed by pain. Her coach sent her to Kaley to assess her condition. While conducting the assessment, Kaley suspected an ACL tear. However, Lesley’s right knee appeared solid. She continued her practice session in the batting cage only to return to tell Kaley her right knee felt strange and the pain exacerbated. Kaley pulled her out of practice as a precaution.

Although Lesley’s knee seemed fine the following day, Kaley had a hunch that it wasn’t and sent Lesley to see the team’s physician, who ordered an MRI. The MRI confirmed that Lesley’s right knee had a torn ACL, which meant a six-month recovery. Since it was already October, Lesley realized it was unlikely she would be able to play her senior season, which was to begin in February.

Lesley’s surgery was scheduled and her countdown toward recovery began. Kaley, a former softball player, knew how important softball was to Lesley and promised to do whatever was necessary to help Lesley recover in time to play. Kaley’s days as an athlete and her familiarity with the drive that athletes have is the tie that binds her to athletes she trains.

Lesley’s rehabilitation progressed well. A week after surgery, she had full range of motion and was moving quickly through the first stage of the ACL rehabilitation protocol. She was running at two months and doing agility exercises by three months, performing sports-specific activities in a controlled environment. Amazingly, by the fourth month, she was cleared to get back to playing.

For Kaley, the long days of rehabbing, educating, motivating and believing in this athlete all came to a moment that she can’t describe. She was full of happiness, relief and disbelief that she was able to assist an athlete to return to her sport in such a short time.

Lesley played in her first game in late February 2017 and has been able play every game since. The highlight of her return came later when she walked up to the plate and hit her first home run of the season. Kaley was the first to greet her at home plate with a “big old bear hug.”

For Kaley, that moment made her realize why she chose to be an athletic trainer: Seeing the pure elation on an athlete’s face who is living a dream accomplished through hard work and determination. It also reminded Kaley how it felt when she hit her first home run.