Could you play your favorite sport if you knew you’d have to leave four to five times a game just to make sure you could stand up? Molly Skaggs does it every time she suits up for Elliott County’s volleyball team.
Skaggs, a setter, was born without complete legs. Her left leg ends about where her ankle should be. Her right ends about 4 inches past her knee; if it’d been 8 inches, “life would be a whole lot easier,” she says.
Molly wears prosthetic limbs on both legs, but it’s that right one that rubs against her skin, often leaving it bruised and raw after practices and games. On Thursday, Skaggs was the focus of a pregame ceremony as Elliott County celebrated its only senior volleyball player; on Friday, she stayed home from school because the pain in the aftermath of a three-game match was too much to take into the classroom.
In all likelihood, that was the next-to-last time Skaggs will have to suffer for her love of the game. Elliott County, the host of this week’s 62nd District Tournament, is 3-10, and 0-6 against district competition. The Lions open the tournament Tuesday against East Carter, a team expected to reach the 16th Region championship game, if not win it.
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It could be the Sandy Hook community’s last opportunity to see Skaggs, too.
“You can’t hardly watch her without feeling some emotion,” said Paul Lewis, a fan in the area. “ … I’m gonna do my best to be out there, myself, Tuesday night. I just want to see her play one more time.”
‘No stopping her’
Jady Skaggs didn’t know Molly was going to come into the world with parts of her legs missing. The ultrasounds of her womb didn’t reveal anything out of the ordinary.
“It was a little bit of a shock when she was born at first,” said Jady, who coaches the team along with her cousin, Angie Lewis. “ … But afterwards, that’s all right, she’s gonna be just like everybody else.”
Molly underwent surgery to remove an exposed bone when she was about 11 months old. Two months later she donned her first pair of prosthetic limbs and was starting to walk — the same time most babies start stomping around.
The youngest of five (three brothers, one sister), Molly figured out at an early age how to get the attention of her siblings when they weren’t focused on her.
She was a really, really tough baby. If they wouldn’t play with her, she would hit ’em with her leg. She would take her legs off in the car when she was in the car seat and she would flip ’em to the sides and hit her brother with ’em.
Jady Skaggs, Molly’s mom and coach
“She was a really, really tough baby,” Jady said. “If they wouldn’t play with her, she would hit ’em with her leg. She would take her legs off in the car when she was in the car seat and she would flip ’em to the sides and hit her brother with ’em.”
Molly took an interest in sports early, trying just about everything involving a ball. Elliott County’s team captain started honing her leadership skills at a young age, too.
“I had her in elementary P.E.,” said Greg Adkins, now Elliott County’s athletics director. “From the time she was in first or second grade she could pretty well conduct the class without me even in there. The kids would mind her. She’s got a great personality and energy about her.”
If Molly had been born with complete legs, “there’d be no stopping her,” Jady says.
“She moves better than some of ’em that have two legs that operate just fine,” she said with laugh. “She’s real determined and doesn’t give up unless she’s in so much pain that she can’t take it.”
Bumps and zits
Molly has never shied away from making light of her circumstances. Before she started grade school she’d crawl around without her prosthetics because she was allowing other kids to play with them. During vacations to the beach, a family friend would bury one of her legs with the foot propped out to try to frighten passersby.
“I could care less telling (people) about it,” Molly said. “Everyone knows that I don’t care if people joke about it, so they’ll joke about it. It’s never bothered me.”
Molly met more envy than menace when she was young.
“Little kids in preschool and kindergarten would be upset because they didn’t have a purple leg like Molly,” Jady said. “They wanted one.”
Today she isn’t as prone to show off her prosthetics, or prosthetic-less legs, to curious parties.
“It’s a teenager thing,” Jady said. “You get a bump or a zit and you’re tore up. Well that’s her bump and zit now, her legs.”
Part of it, too, is the labor necessary to displace her prosthetics isn’t worthwhile. Because the residual limb of her right leg isn’t long enough to hold a prosthetic on its own, she must wear a suspension sleeve that goes up to her thigh. When she’s on the court, she dons spandex shorts that go down to her knees and long socks that come up to them to support and protect the binding.
Even with all that support, in-game maintenance is frequently required. Molly will often start on the front row and sub out after she’s served so she can wipe down sweat that’s accumulated between her right knee and its prosthetic; it doesn’t take long for the silicone to start getting slippery.
‘One of the originals’
Senior Night was more emotional than Molly anticipated.
“I thought it would be all laughing and everything, but then the girls got all teary-eyed on me when they were talking to me and started hugging me and made me really sad,” Molly said.
She’s not just Elliott County’s only senior, but its first to have started playing as a freshman and played four years of varsity volleyball. The Lions didn’t have a program until 2014, when Jady — who played at Rowan County — and Angie Lewis had daughters who wanted to play and were able to spark enough interest to get a team going.
Elliott County’s three wins this season? Those are the program’s only three wins, period.
“Everybody, even in our district, has 15-to-20-some years on us,” Jady said. “Even though Molly has four years, seniors like that we played (on Thursday), they’ve usually got seven or eight years. It makes it a little bit rougher.”
How does Molly feel about being one of Elliott County volleyball’s foundational pillars?
“I never really thought much about it until people started saying, ‘Oh, you’re one of the originals,’” Molly said. “It sounds pretty cool to me, though.”
Among the originals, she is the most original. Every time she takes the floor, fans unfamiliar with her background start whispering in the stands, trying to figure out why she’s dressed differently and going to the bench so frequently.
Then they realize why. “‘Man, she is so inspirational,’” Jady said. “As a coach I couldn’t be any more proud of her.”
Around Sandy Hook, people don’t see Molly Skaggs, a volleyball player with prosthetic limbs. They see Molly Skaggs, a kid playing her favorite sport, just like the five others with her on the court.
“It’s always been Molly,” Adkins said, “and that’s how everybody’s looked at her.”