ATLANTA – Kerri Walsh still has a long, ugly scar running down the front of her right shoulder, a constant reminder of the rather primitive surgery she had nearly a decade ago.
This time, all it took was five small holes to patch her up.
“When I woke up the day after surgery, I was still pretty sore, but it felt like relief,” Walsh said. “I felt like I could breathe again. It was a long time coming.”
Despite a few setbacks along the way, Walsh insists her comeback from rotator cuff surgery is moving along just fine, and she has no doubts about being 100 percent healthy when she teams with partner Misty May-Treanor to go for a second straight Olympic gold medal in beach volleyball.
“Absolutely,” Walsh said confidently. “I’ll be 110 percent.”
There has been much speculation about the state of Walsh’s shoulder, especially when she sat out three weeks in May.
But she said it’s all part of the recovery process from major surgery. Walsh had to test the range and power of her shoulder, which she did while winning her first three events on the AVP tour this year. But she also had to be smart enough to back off when the pain became a little too much to bear, so she and her partner pulled out of one AVP event and two international tournaments.
“That has never happened during a season since we’ve been together, so I didn’t like it very much,” Walsh said. “But we felt like it was the smart move. I got stronger and we really practiced hard.”
In their first tournament back, Walsh and May-Treanor won the AVP tournament in Louisville, Ky., last week, making them 4 for 4 on the domestic tour this season. They were going for their fifth straight title in Atlanta this weekend.
“It was just a little tender,” Walsh said. “The media kept using the words ‘injury’ and ‘injured.’ That was not the case. I was 61/2 months out of surgery. This is just part of the process. I’m not 100 percent yet, but I’m getting there. I am 100 percent functional, but the power and strength isn’t there yet.”
When she felt an unusual twinge during a tournament at Huntington Beach, Calif., in early May, she knew it was time to back off a little bit.
“We want to win a gold medal in Beijing,” the 29-year-old Walsh said. “We’ve got to think about the big picture.”
May-Treanor, who has been through both knee and shoulder procedures herself, encouraged Walsh to have surgery after last season. The duo was the world’s top-ranked women’s team and already had qualified for the Beijing Olympics by winning all eight of the international tournaments they entered in 2007.
“It’s easier to get it done early, so you’ll be ready to go,” May-Treanor said. “You don’t want to have something nagging you.”
Walsh’s shoulder had actually been nagging her off and on since her last surgery, which she had while still in college. She finally reached a point where she knew it was time for another operation, especially with all the advances that have been made in a procedure that is most commonly performed on baseball pitchers.
“I had been playing with a bum shoulder for nine years,” she said. “By the end of last year, I was just pretty miserable. It’s not so much that it was painful, but it just wasn’t working right. I was used to hitting high and hard. But I couldn’t lift my arm. I couldn’t generate any speed. My body was protecting itself because there was something wrong in there.”
Walsh turned to Dr. William Schobert, whose track record included successful surgeries on May-Treanor and men’s volleyball icon Karch Kiraly.
Schobert used an arthroscopic procedure to patch up Walsh’s rotator cuff, remove a bone spur that had been digging into a tendon, and clean up some floating debris and scar tissue.
“I had an amazing doctor,” she said. “I feel like when I do come full circle, my shoulder will be better than it’s ever been.”
Her partner’s encouragement helped in the recovery.
“Misty has been so unbelievably supportive,” Walsh said.
Even with a sub-par shoulder, Walsh has established herself as one of beach volleyball’s greatest players.
At 6-foot-3, she’s taller than many of the top men players, an imposing presence when she goes up at the net for a block or soars through the air for a spike. Walsh teamed with May-Treanor for an unprecedented 89-match winning streak in 2003 and ‘04. At the Athens Olympics, their star power shot through the roof when they captured gold without losing a game.
While May-Treanor said everything else “is just icing on the cake,” the duo is eager to win a second straight gold.
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