Hannah Kate Chadwell stares down the volleyball rising towards the rafters. She waits until her opponent jumps for it so that she can send their attack back the other way. She has literally broken her back to get to where she is now.
Chadwell is a 5’10” middle blocker/right side hitter, and a key player for the Piedmont University volleyball team. She blocks up front, makes aggressive kills and serves up aces to help her team win matches. She helps her teammates not only through her own performance, but also by helping to give advice on how to play their positions even better.
“She knows how to read the ball and the setter, which makes her a vital player on the court,” says sophomore outside hitter/right side player Alaina McDonald. “Not only is she a strong blocker and hitter for our team, but she also encourages everyone else to play their hardest. Even through her back injury, her personality on the court has remained the same.”
“She is always for the team wanting to win,” said her teammate, sophomore outside hitter/defensive specialist Reagan Mercado. “When she broke her back, she didn’t stop that. She just continued leading from the bench.”
In February, during an unusual 2020-2021 volleyball season in which the pandemic moved the fall sport to spring, Chadwell fractured her lower two lumbar vertebrae in her spine.
“Before she learned about her injury, she would try to play through the pain for the benefit of the team,” McDonald said.
Mercado added, “I know it killed her to be off of [the volleyball court] because she tried to keep playing, even though her back was hurting.”
The severity of the injury was unknown until about two months later before a game when she was unable to walk.
“I was restricted to my bed for about a week until I could move around kind of comfortably, and then it was just kind of like a pressure in my back,” said Chadwell. “It was rather difficult, but with sports come injuries.”
Chadwell’s injury required much rest and physical therapy, but no surgery was required. “It’s just one of those injuries where you’ve got to let your body heal itself.”
Training has been limited due to what she is able or unable to do with her back.
“I can’t do deadlifts and squats just because of the pressure that it puts directly on my spine,” said Chadwell. “I find variations of other things. So instead of deadlifts, I do Roman deadlifts. You’re training the same muscles, just in a different way.”
Chadwell said she needed to “listen to her body” and “take a step back when something feels uncomfortable” even when she wanted to become stronger by pushing herself to a new max.
When athletes face injuries, it is always as much of a mental recovery as it is a physical recovery. A big part of overcoming the mental aspect is the support received from others. For Chadwell, that support came from her family, friends, teammates and coaches.
“It was difficult because I use volleyball as one of my outlets for stress relief,” Chadwell said. “So, when that outlet was taken away, I relied a lot on my family and friends. My parents have always been supportive of me and everything I do. I know not everyone has that and not everyone has people to lean on, so I feel blessed to have those people in my life.”
Chadwell has fully recovered, and the team is excited for what she can do. However, there is still a possibility of her injury flaring back up. Chadwell is aware of the possibility she may no longer be able to play again, but she knows one thing for sure: she is going to play with everything she has as long as she can.
“It was a reality check that I am not going to be able to play this sport forever,” Chadwell said. “At the end of the day, your sport and everything that you do — that’s not who you are. Volleyball is a part of me, but I am not just a volleyball player. I needed to take a step back and realize who I am and what my other strengths are.”