.@kathkoschel: For the love of the game @TheRoarSports #cricket

Being someone who loves to know everything that is going on in the world of cricket, I can sometimes unknowingly focus solely on the international male and females players.

Yet right beside us, on the train, on the bus, at the shopping centre or in the work place, people who love the game as much as I do are having their own individual battles based around the cricket field.

Last Friday night I was reminded by a past work college, ex-flatmate, ex-teammate and most importantly, a friend, of the private battle she faced because of her love of the game.

Up until last year, Kath Koschel had a typical cricket story like most of us – brought up on the game of cricket in the backyard with her brothers and father, she then decided to turn her attention to actually being on the field competing instead of chasing after the balls hit by her brothers.

Kath found her home of cricket with St George Cricket Club at an early age, and she was selected for the NSW junior teams along the way as she progressed through the age groups .

Once she was in the land of senior cricket, Kath initially found it difficult to break into the Breakers (as most of us do). The team is regularly made up of current Australian players and consistently wins the Women’s National Cricket League title.

However, Kath bided her time and eventually, due to performances in first grade for the St George/Sutherland club, she gained selection into the Breakers squad for 2010/2011 season.

Kath’s time with the Breakers has left a lasting impact on me. During Kath’s time with the team, I witnessed firsthand what the power of elite sport can do to a player that wants it so bad.

Like any elite athlete, to be successful cricketers must go through a continual process of assessing your strengths and weaknesses. For Kath the major area she identified that needed improvement was her fitness.

There are some athletes that choose to do the hard work, and there are others that face it front on and push the limits. Kath was certainly one that pushed her body to the limit.

I would see her every morning and evening, before and after work, smashing herself at the Cricket NSW gym, and over the course of a few months she was one of the fittest players in the squad.

It was around September of 2010 that she started to experience back pain. Being a private person and a hard trainer she just kept her head down and focused on training.

I still remember the day that I was hanging around in the physio room in November 2010 when the physio at the time, Kate Blackwell (Alex’s twin sister) asked Kath what her symptoms were.

“I can’t feel my leg,” she said casually.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, and for the next few minutes Kate checked everything, and Kath was right; she couldn’t feel anything in her left foot.

Over the next few weeks a number of discussions took place between Kath and the medical staff. There was a NSW second XI tour coming up in mid-December, but more importantly Cricket NSW were concerned about her health as they take athlete welfare very seriously.

Notwithstanding the initially confronting symptoms related to her back pain, Kath simply did not want to miss the second XI tour. She had worked her butt off for six months and there was no way that she was not going to play.

I was the assistant coach/manager of the team at the time and I witnessed what an amazing tournament Kath had! She consistently scored runs, capping it off by scoring 102 againt Western Australia.

These performances secured her a position in the Breakers team for the next round of matches against South Australia, and her dream to represent NSW at an open level was just about to come true.

Even then Kath was still having major issues with her back. Those issues were certainly affecting her foot, her running and her game, even in aspects like playing a ball on leg stump.

But who would give up the opportunity to represent your state in the game you passionately love? Not many people, and certainly not Kath Koschel. It had been a long battle for Kath to get here and there was nothing that was going to stop her.

While living out her dream and playing on the Adelaide oval, her debut was made even more special as she guided NSW to a vital win and raised her bat after posting 57 runs at the top of the order.

After that match, her world as she knew it would change forever. She started to experience foot drop, a condition that saw her not able to move her toes or flex her foot.

She began to drag her foot along as she walked, and in March 2011 she had the first of her two back surgeries to try and rectify the situation.

After months and months of rehabilitation things got worse, ultimately culminating in the devastating and confronting news at the end of last year that she may have to lose her leg.

Having woken up one morning with no feeling in her leg from the hip down, and losing control of her bladder and bowel, Kath realised that it had become an emergency.

In typical Kath fashion she still drove herself to the hospital, where she was told that the blood pressure in her leg was dangerously low and that they would have to amputate her leg from the knee down.

Kath, being quite stubborn and leading a very active life, couldn’t bare the thought of losing her leg, even though she respected that the doctors were doing what was best regarding her health.

She argued and argued, and in doing that she bought herself more time. She was given a deadline of two weeks to get the pressure up to a suitable level. If the pressure was to drop to a critical stage again, a full leg amputation would be required.

As if everything else wasn’t bad enough, it was at this moment that Kath finally allowed herself to feel the emotion of everything that she had experienced over the previous months, accentuated by her simultaneously dealing with the best and most challenging experiences life has to offer.

Even though she was exhausted from countless sessions in rehab, keeping down a full time job here at Cricket NSW, plus keeping this enormous challenge a secret to herself, yet again she dusted herself off the canvas and somehow found the strength to give herself the best chance of keeping her leg.

Kath hit the gym at all hours of the day, and just 24 hours before the deadline she had been given, the doctors discovered that she was bleeding internally and it was that bleed that was preventing the right amount of blood to circulate around her left leg.

With this news, Kath won the first important battle – to keep her leg.

Whenever I think about what Kath must have been going through I am astounded but not surprised.

Throughout what was possibly the hardest days she had experienced, Kath demonstrated the same motivation and drive that had given her the opportunity to represent NSW.

Exemplifying the magic of human spirit and will, Kath somehow found a way to keep her leg despite countless doctors insisting that it would never get any better.

So why tell you this story?

Firstly, it is truly an inspiring story of what one person can do if they put their mind to it. The strength people find when there are no other options is truly amazing, and this should be celebrated as. It is more important than how many runs or wickets someone has tallied.

Secondly, I am sure that there are plenty of athletes in similar situations trying to make it to the top. How far will they go to reach their dream? Maybe this story will inspire them to push just one more time when it feels like their dream is out of their reach?

I am sure that there may be times that Kath regrets not taking the time off to heal properly, but on the flip side she has met some wonderful people, brought some much needed attention to a charity that gives so much to people they help, and undoubtedly has a closer bond to her family that have been her rock since it has all happened.

You can read the full story of Kath’s struggle here, and if you feel touched by her story please support Limbs for Life.

NOTE: I write a weekly article for The Roar sports website. This article also appears on The Roar website at www.roar.com.au

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