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After losing leg, Baker plays again

Courtney Baker
Courtney Baker has returned to the volleyball court.
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Tully Corcoran

Tully Corcoran spent seven years covering the Kansas City Chiefs and Kansas Jayhawks for The Topeka Capital-Journal. His work has been honored multiple times by The Kansas Press Association. He most recently wrote for FOX Sports Houston and FOX Sports Southwest. Follow him on Twitter.

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Courtney Baker slides her feet better now. She works the angles. She depends more on accuracy than athleticism.

Baker is without one of her legs, but she hasn’t stopped playing volleyball.

The Louisville Courier-Journal has a detailed description of Baker’s story. The basics are that in December Baker was driving home from Asbury University in Wilmore, Ky., for winter break when she fell asleep behind the wheel, resulting in a gruesome wreck that cost Baker her left leg.

In the not-too-distant past, that would have meant Baker’s collegiate volleyball career was over, but now there is the blade. You recognize the prosthetic made by Amputee Blade Runners as those worn by double-amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius in the 2012 Olympics, but his is not the only athletic career the technology has saved.

In Montana, there is Koni Dole, a high school football player who lost his right leg and returned to the field for Huntley Project High School this season. There is a similar story in Mountain Brook, Ala., where double amputee Ward Webb plays linebacker for his school’s JV team.

And now there is Baker.

“She’s so unaffected by it in so many ways that you almost get lulled into thinking it’s normal that a kid is standing there with a blade on her foot,” Asbury varsity coach J.P. Rader told the Courier-Journal.

During the crash, Baker suffered what doctors refer to as a “de-gloving,” which is every bit as horrifying as it sounds. The flesh on her leg was ripped away in the crash, and she says that when she saw it she thought she was going to die. A friend, Sarah Sterling, was driving her own car in front of Baker, and when she found her friend in the wreckage, she tied some scarves around Baker’s leg to slow the bleeding.

“Sarah, pray for me,” Baker said. “Sarah, if I die I want to go to heaven, so pray for me.”

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As Baker’s parents were rushing to the hospital from three hours away, doctors were talking about amputation. She begged them not to take her leg, and they didn’t. A specialist though he might be able to save it, but the process was going to be lengthy, excruciatingly painful and possibly ineffective.

She decided to try, but after three procedures and facing six more months of treatment, she decided to end the suffering and have doctors amputate.

Baker began with a prosthesis designed for walking, but she was not finished playing volleyball. So she asked her coaches if they would give her a chance to come back.

“The first thing that popped in my head was that if anyone was going to be stubborn enough and strong enough to actually do this, it would be her,” JV coach Keith Stowe said.

She got the blade in March and soon ran an 11-minute mile. That was encouraging, but still a lot less complicated than playing volleyball. When she started playing again, she fell all the time, but she is figuring it out. Her career is not over.

She was a varsity player before her injury. The goal is to get there again.

“I have no idea if she’ll make it to varsity,” Stowe said, “but it’s unfair not to give her the chance, because she’s worked so hard and been so courageous.”

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