Liberty volleyball player back and better than ever after surgery

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Liberty High School senior Kennedy Garnhart has always been passionate about volleyball. Despite curves on the road of her athletic journey, she never even thought to back down.

With the passion and drive for the sport. It seemed nothing could slow Kennedy down.

“I was bending down to tie my shoe and mom was like ‘hmm,'” she said.

It was time to get a doctor’s opinion.

“I was really scared,” she said. “I though, what if my back is broken?”

The diagnosis was in: scoliosis, a sideways curvature of the spine.

“The first question I asked them was, ‘Can I still play volleyball?,'” Kennedy said.

From ages 12 to 17, volleyball remained Kennedy’s number one athletic priority. She was determined to change her fate the healthiest way possible. With the help of yoga, her back straightened three degrees, and she even grew a little. But over time her spine had a mind of its own, and she could not ignore the severity of her condition any longer.

“My junior year, right in the middle of volleyball season, I just knew,” she said. “My back had been hurting a lot more and I just knew.”

“He came back and said, ‘It’s at 50.’ And he goes, ‘We really should do surgery,'” Kennedy said.

“I was really scared,” she said. “That whole volleyball season, I did not tell my coaches at the beginning. I just bottled everything up.”

“I kept encouraging her,” Kennedy’s mom, Kimberley Garnhart, said. “I said, you need to talk to your coaches so they know what is going on. So she said, ‘Okay, I am going to tell them.'”

“I remember having one-on-ones with my coach and she came in and said, ‘Kennedy, you need to pick it up,'” Kennedy said. “You need to trust your passers. You need to set your hitters better. I just broke down. I told her this was my situation and I have to have surgery. This could be my last season of volleyball, I really do not know what is going to happen. Immediately, they just came and hugged me, and told me they would always be there for me.”

On the morning of May 15, the soon-to-be high school senior went under the knife with no exact promise if she would be able to play volleyball at the same level again.

“I just had this really good feeling, and I trusted every single doctor and every person there,” she said.

“We went back [after surgery] and the first thing she asked was, ‘Am I taller?,'” Kimberley said.

And she was. Post surgery, Kennedy grew an inch and a half, and her spine has been corrected from a 50 degree curve to a 12 degree curve. But despite the positive news post-op, Kennedy’s mind was on the court.

“I definitely felt different. After about six weeks, you can start getting on the court a little bit. Nothing above your head, so no setting. I am a setter, so I was a kind of heartbroken. And then at three months, that was full clearance. So, I wrote stuff out every single time I knew, ‘Okay, this is the day when I can go play volleyball again.'”

She drew a big circle around the Liberty vs. Bear Creek game, the first game of her senior volleyball season.

“My husband and I, we just had tears in our eyes,” Kimberley said. “We got very emotional. I went to the gym with her quite a few times before tryouts, but to see her out on the court and to know she had made it, we were just so proud of her.”

“I cried the first time I played volleyball again,” Kennedy said. “The very first set I had, it just overwhelmed me.”

Even more than her love for the sport, Kennedy wants other athletes with scoliosis to know surgery does not have to be the end of the road. Instead, it can be a new beginning.

“It is really, really hard,” she said. “And there were lots of times I thought, ‘I can’t do it.’ I just wanted to give up, but just stay with it, and it is so worth it.”

“You know, she was just stronger mentally and physically,” Kimberley said. “I knew this was going to help her many years down the road from having this surgery.”

“If I think of my life without playing volleyball, and doing all that stuff, it is just not the same,” Kennedy said. “Playing my senior season of volleyball with my best friends I have played with since third grade, that is the biggest payoff. It makes everything worth it.”

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