Who knew that becoming a high school softball star could involve such back-breaking effort?
Lafayette junior Kecia Stephens has had to overcome a fractured vertebra not once, but twice in her young career.
Not that the injuries have diminished her passion for the game.
"I play with the same intensity," she says. "Because now, after the injury, I did almost have the game taken away from me, and I really feel like God has given me the ability to come back from it. And I just feel extremely blessed. So I go all out."
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Stephens was playing for Harrison County when she was first hurt.
"My eighth-grade year, I was sliding into home during a district championship game. And when I hit the ground, the dirt was really hard and I fractured my back," she says.
She says she didn't realize the extent of the injury until perhaps six months later.
Her father Kevin, who also is the Lafayette head coach, recalls "as time went on, she started developing some numbness in her feet and in her arms and hands. So that's when we started getting a little bit more worried about it and decided to go ahead and start checking on it."
Physical therapy, MRIs, CT scans and visits to chiropractors revealed a fractured L3 vertebra.
Her freshman year at Lafayette, Kecia fractured the L4 vertebra, also in the lower lumbar region of the spine, apparently suffering the injury during a sliding drill.
The first pitch of her first at-bat that season, she socked a home run. It turned out to be her only game of the season. The sliding drill had taken place about two or three weeks earlier.
She finally got back in the swing last year, as a sophomore. She finished with a 19-12 record in the pitching circle, while hitting .350 with an on-base percentage of .400.
Entering Wednesday night's game against Scott County, Lafayette was off to a 12-3 start to the season. Armed with a wicked curveball, Kecia was 10-2. She was hitting .435, with on-base and slugging percentages of .495 and .575.
"She's having a pretty good year starting out," Kevin says. "So as long as she can keep growing. And, like I said, we do try to watch her as far as making sure she's not getting too many reps in, and making sure she's icing properly and stretching out properly. So she's really had to change her protocols to adjust herself. Things seem to be going in the right direction."
It can be a scary moment for the family, though, when Kecia makes a diving play.
"It does scare me always," says Sherry Stephens, Kecia's mom. "I hold my breath. I look at her face when she gets up.
"But I know she's strong. I've watched her lift weights. She runs. She's like a distance runner; she loves to run. And she exercises and tries to keep herself in really good physical condition to be able to help herself on the field."
Kecia has committed to play for Georgetown College, where she hopes to study pharmacy or physical therapy. When not pitching, she plays first base or third, and she's likely to land in Georgetown's infield.
Meanwhile, she is enjoying being back. "I love the game," she says. "I actually love it. I just feel extremely blessed to still be able to play and I just try to not take one moment for granted."