TCNJ Hurler Kohut Wins Inspiration Award

Jess Kohut came back after a near devastating injury

June 25, 2007

By Grant Tunkel

Special to CSTV.com

 

NEW YORK -- Jess Kohut stood on the stage at Low Library on the campus of Columbia University to accept the Honda Inspiration Award, and she smiled.

 

She took pictures with members of the Board of Directors and sat back down in her chair, still beaming. She didn't step up to the podium to address the crowd that had gathered for the presentation of the Inspiration Award as well as four others that comprise the Collegiate Women Sports Awards.

 

She just kept smiling.


 

 

 

Kohut was incredibly happy to be there. And incredibly lucky, too.

 

On March 29, 2006, Kohut was struck in the face with a 90 mph line drive while pitching for The College of New Jersey against Muhlenberg in a Division III game.

 

"It was a screwball," she said of the pitch. "An outside pitch to a righty, and she pulled it up the middle."

 

She didn't have time to react to the batted ball; the pitching rubber is only 43 feet away from the plate in softball.

 

"I remember it being very scary. I remember everything," she said. "I remember the sound of the bat, the sound of the ball hitting my face, the feel of the ball hitting my face. It was just an awful experience."

 

She was immediately rushed to the hospital, where she had surgery to repair a number of injuries, which included bone and nerve damage.

 

"I've been around this game a long time, but this was by far one of the scariest things I've ever seen," Muhlenberg head coach Ruth Gibbs said in a press release.

 

Kohut did not suffer a concussion from the line drive, nor did she have any brain contusions.

 

"Just bone fractures," Kohut said. "It was shattered everywhere."

 

The injury forced her to miss the remainder of the season as well as the rest of the school year. It could have killed her as well, and it certainly could have ended her playing career.

 

But Kohut would not let that happen.

 

She took her first step back when she returned to the school for the fall, but it wasn't easy. The injury took its toll on her ability to succeed academically.

 

"It affected my focus. I couldn't really run a lot, the heat and rain bother me. School was really hard because I couldn't focus," she said.

 

The next step was a potential comeback to the game, and Kohut would not give up. She was determined to finish out her career at TCNJ. And with only one year of eligibility left, she couldn't take her time.

 

"It wasn't an option," she said.

 

Seven months after the injury, Kohut rejoined the team in Sept. 2006 to begin practice. Still, she was not at 100 percent.

 

"The whole thing was difficult," she said of the long road back to playing. "The hardest part was holding back. Physically I wasn't able to do a lot of things and I wasn't used to that. I had to hold back on running and doing drills."

 

But she would not be deterred.

 

And on March 13, 2007 - almost one year removed from the devastating injury - Kohut donned a thick protective mask and stepped back on to the field, going 0-for-2 with a walk against the College of Staten Island. She played first base for the Lions, a position she stayed at for the rest of the season.

 

"It was exciting," she said. "The looks on my teammates faces was very comforting and they were very happy that I was there.

 

"I was happy to be at first base because it didn't bring back memories; it's a totally different position. I was comfortable at first base."

 

Still, there was one more comeback to be made - to the circle. And on March 24, Kohut did just that.

 

With Haverford College up 7-3 going into the top of the seventh, TCNJ starter Heather Hoffman was removed from the circle and Kohut came in, her first game back in the circle since suffering the potentially career-ending injury.

 

"I honestly was just really happy to be out there," she said. "I was pitching to my best friend, so it was good to see the look on her face."

 

She pitched a scoreless seventh, and although by her own admission the recovery from the injury is not complete, her comeback was.

 

At the ceremony's conclusion, Kohut joined the four other award winners - Nebraska's Sarah Pavan, Metropolitan State's Kylee Hanavan, DePauw's Liz Biondi, and Rutgers' women's basketball coach C. Vivian Stringer - and kept smiling.

 

She knew how difficult it had been to get to that stage, and what kind of courage it took to get back on the field. And knowing that, she just smiled.