When Du Quoin High School senior Alexis Kohrs went down with a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the Lady Indians' varsity basketball game on November 20, almost everyone immediately assumed that the All-State pitcher and Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville signee's final prep softball season had ended before it even began.
DHS softball head coach, and girls' basketball assistant, Jason James was so distraught he couldn't even get up off the bench while the trainers attended to Kohrs, who lied on the floor in agony after her knee buckled while trying to bring herself to an abrupt stop.
Even though it was basketball season, Kohrs said: "As soon as I hit the ground, softball was the first thing that came to my mind," - and who could blame her? She set Du Quoin softball team records for home runs and pitching victories in a single season as a junior while piling up several other accolades for the Lady Indians, who also set a school record for victories with 36 and claimed only the second Regional title in the program's history in 2012. She also had a Division 1 scholarship in the bag to SIU-E that she had officially signed just a week earlier.
Softball was probably on the mind of James, too. The coach has seen his softball squad break a handful of school records over the past two years as it continues to build a reputation as a consistent contender in Class 2A, and he admitted his actual thoughts when the injury to Kohrs occurred probably were not suitable for print.
"Probably something like 'oh… shoot," said James. "You hate to see a kid like her that works so hard go down with that injury."
"When she first told me about it, she was crying, her mom was crying, I'm thinking 'done - get yourself ready for SIU-E.' She said 'I'll be back, I'll be back.' She kept saying it. In my head, I'm thinking 'yeah, whatever."
Fast-forward to present day and as shocking as it may seem, Kohrs is just two months removed from surgery to repair a completely torn ACL and yet she has been cleared by her doctors to pitch, field and hit.
"It feels awesome," Kohrs said after Wednesday's practice. "Even though the doctors first told me I wouldn't have a senior year (in athletics) left, after two months I'm already back on the field."
In the not-too-distant past, recovery times for a torn ACL ranged anywhere from four months to a year - and sometimes longer. Even 2012 National Football League MVP Adrian Peterson's nine-month recovery from ACL surgery in December of 2011 was viewed as jaw-dropping and practically super-human.
Kohrs' story began with an original diagnosis of a sprained LCL (lateral collateral ligament) in the days following the injury.
"I was told I'd be fine after a week or two," Kohrs remembered, "but then I went back two weeks later and they told me I had a completely torn ACL."
"I was scared after I went to the first doctor and he told me I was done and couldn't play until college. I wasn't wanting to look at that, I was looking at getting back in time for my high school team for my senior year, being there for my team."
So, one of the most talented hitters or pitchers ever to wear a Du Quoin softball uniform sought out one of the best medical practices specializing in knee surgeries in the country for her treatment - the Shelbourne Knee Center in Indianapolis, Indiana.
"I went to a surgeon in Indianapolis because it was the only place that did this type of surgery in the United States," Kohrs said. "Dr. (Rodney) Benner did my surgery, and Dr. (K. Donald) Shelbourne was in there assisting him, also Dr. (Scott) Urch. They told me instead of being out six months, it would probably be more like 3-4, but the way I've been going it's only been two months for me."
The procedure was done on December 14, 2012. The doctors at Shelbourne Knee Center used the patellar tendon from Kohrs' good knee to construct a new ACL for the bad knee. The practice's website states that years of experience have shown that taking the graft from the opposite knee allows for a faster, more predictable recovery for the patient.
"My rehab I've just been kind of doing on my own," said Kohrs. "I had to rest for two weeks, couldn't do anything. I stayed in Indianapolis for a whole week, doing rehab three times a day, mainly stretching and getting my range back."
After being more or less bedridden for over a week, Kohrs began down the road to recovery. About a month after the surgery, she was already getting her arm into shape with every intention of pitching for the Lady Indians this upcoming season.
"The thing that shocks you about a kid like that is the way she kept working even when she was hurt," said James. "She called me to get a key to the gym, came and set up her little gadgets, she'd be on one knee and she'd be throwing. She never really stopped throwing. The knee was on a pad, she used her upper body, her arms swings, that kind of stuff. She was saying her arm felt good, she felt strong."
Another month later, more good news arrived, and it didn't take long for Kohrs to amp up her workouts.
"I got released to hit, pitch, and field on February 15th," she said. "As soon as I got released, that Saturday I went out and pitched and I've been pitching for twelve days since."
"I feel almost over 100%. I feel better than ever, it never hurts or anything. I already have my range back and I'm just about full-strength, but I still do rehab for strengthening."
Naturally, Kohrs initially went through a bit of a relearning process when she was able to step back onto the pitching rubber for the first time in three months.
"It felt kind of weird at first just knowing that something was different," said Kohrs, "but after I got used to it and got it in my head, I was fine. I felt just like I did last year. I'm still working to increase my speed, they said that would come along with practice since I've been out for so long."
Despite the amazing progress Kohrs has made thus far, her role with the Lady Indians when the season starts on March 16 is yet to be determined. After all, it's not every day someone recovers from an injury as serious as this in such a short amount of time.
"She couldn't even leave the bed at first," James said. "It's just unreal to me, I'm as shocked as everybody else here. It's hard to believe she tore her ACL, but she's got the scars to prove it."
"It's shocking to us. She had surgery two months ago and she's already back throwing. It's odd for me too as a coach, I'm afraid - do I put her out there, do I not put her out there, what do I do with her? We have not really even thought about it yet. If any kid can make it back, it's going to be Alexis. She works."
Kohrs credits her physicians and her family - specifically her mother, sister and grandparents - for their help in the process of getting her back for one last season of high school softball.
"They stayed with me even though I might have been a little crabby and upset sometimes," she said. "They helped me and pushed me, they did everything possible that they could to get me back in time."
James said Kohrs will return to the doctors on March 13 to see if she will be cleared to go full-speed on sprints. Three days later, Du Quoin hosts Marissa for a softball doubleheader to kick off what many hope will be another record-setting season for the Lady Indians.
"The most important thing for me is coming out and being there for my team," Kohrs said. "Anything that they need me to do. Helping our team and all of us building up together, and having the same mindset of going to state, winning the conference again, and doing the best we can."
Asked if "doing the best we can" included beating defending state champion Nashville - the team that has eliminated DHS from the IHSA playoffs each of the past two seasons - Kohrs grinned, nodded her head, and simply replied: "Yeah."
-Doug Daniels can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter @DQCallSports.