October 13, 2021
Kody Ketchum, a senior at Park Hill High School in Kansas City, Missouri, began wrestling when he was just 6 years old. The sport has taught him many lessons, including how to overcome setbacks. So when he suffered multiple injuries in high school – causing him to miss his junior and freshman seasons – his first instinct wasn’t to give up, but instead to keep on going.
During a wrestling match in October 2018, Kody tore his ACL. “I knew it wasn’t a good sign when I felt my knee give in during the match, but I didn’t want to quit,” he says. “After wrestling in the next match, my coach told me I needed to rest and see a doctor.”
A family friend recommended Kody see Bryan Vopat, MD, at The University of Kansas Health System.
After Dr. Vopat confirmed Kody tore his ACL, the next steps were surgery and physical therapy. Dr. Vopat often recommends surgery for young athletes with injuries like Kody’s.
“In Kody’s case, surgery and physical therapy were necessary for him to return to wrestling. Physical therapy is important because it helps athletes improve their strength, balance and the likelihood of returning to their sport,” he says.
After completing physical therapy, Kody enrolled in the ACL bridge program at The University of Kansas Health System Sports Medicine and Performance Center in Overland Park. The 6-week course was created to help athletes who are recovering from an ACL injury or want to reduce the risk of developing an injury.
“Athletes participating in any sport can benefit from the ACL bridge program,” says athletic trainer Krisha Kackley. “This even includes athletes who have not sustained an injury to the ACL or knee in general, but have predisposing biomechanical factors that put them at risk for injury.”
During the program, Kody focused on strength, body awareness and functionality specific to wrestling. He always showed up ready to work, which allowed him to see improvements quickly.
“Kody never gave up and always persevered, no matter how challenging the exercises were,” says Kackley. “We were excited to see his progression during the program, but we are even more excited to see his future wrestling accomplishments.”
All of Kody’s hard work paid off. After competing in his sophomore year, he finished 2nd in the state wrestling tournament.
“This experience taught me that in order to get back to where I was, I had to work hard,” he says. “I couldn’t have done it without Dr. Vopat and everyone at the Sports Medicine and Performance Center.”
Another big challenge
Getting ready for his junior year and building on his 2nd-place finish in state, Kody encountered another setback in October 2020.
“I was warming up with my training partner at the Myrtle Beach Super 32 tournament,” Kody remembers. “My arms were extended and he brought my elbow over my head. It felt a little funny, but I didn’t think anything was wrong. I wrestled 5 matches and won 3 of them.”
Kody felt worse in the days that followed the tournament. When he got back to Kansas City, he went back to the Sports Medicine and Performance Center to get checked out. “I went back because I thought they did an excellent job with my ACL injury and I wanted what was best for my body.”
“I recommend surgery for this injury for younger patients or athletes returning to contact or overhead sports," Dr. Birt says. "Surgical treatment can decrease the chances for recurrent instability.”
Facing a second injury in high school was tough for Kody. Kody’s mom, Addie Ketchum, wasn’t sure whether he would be able to wrestle again. “It was devastating,” she remembers.
Dr. Birt understands the challenges of recovering from multiple injuries as an athlete in high school. “The mental aspect of recovering from a season-ending injury weighs heavily on a young athlete,” Dr. Birt says. “To suffer 2 injuries in high school takes a special athlete to recover from that and do well and return to a sport.”
Dr. Birt added that the goal of every procedure is to give an athlete a functional extremity for the rest of their life, and to help them return to their sport at an equivalent level of their previous activity. “This injury is a lengthy recovery,” he says. “The surgery is a small part. The physical therapy afterwards to regain strength and mobility to compete at a high level is extremely important.”
After surgery, Kody again worked hard during physical therapy. Physical therapist Jennifer Talone praised Kody for his positive attitude during the recovery process. “Kody’s mindset made his physical therapy at the performance center successful,” she says. “He is determined to perform better than he's ever performed in wrestling.”
While keeping a great attitude and work ethic has helped Kody recover, the people around him have also been a big factor in helping him heal successfully. “My coaches did a good job of making sure that I was there for the team and around the sport,” Kody says.
Kody attended every team practice and helped where he could as a manager, coach or wherever he was needed. Kody started practicing again in March with his club team, Greater Heights Wrestling, and has been working hard every day to be ready for his senior season. His mom has noticed Kody’s diligence firsthand. “He gets up at 5 a.m. every morning and has been working really hard to get back,” she says.
Kody has big goals for a successful senior season and plans to wrestle in college. “I’m a little under the radar because I’ve only wrestled for 1 season,” he says. “I’d like to go to a D1 or a D2 program, get a scholarship to pay for school and keep competing. I’m trying to get everything I can out of my next 5 years, and hopefully in the future become a coach.”
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