The stage was perfectly set for Bethany Kaylor.
The Oregon women’s ultimate Fugue team was well on its way to another run at nationals, but this one in particular was going to be special for Kaylor.
As president of the Cincinnati Ultimate Players Association, Bethany’s father, Mike Kaylor, had succeeded in campaigning for the 2014 nationals tournament to be hosted in Cincinnati – the Kaylors’ hometown. The tournament was going to be an unofficial homecoming for Kaylor, and an opportunity to play in front of many friends and family once again. Then, one evening, April 15, 2014 to be exact, Kaylor’s season was derailed while practicing with the team.
In a freak-collision, Kaylor’s right foot “got on the back of [her] teammate’s cleat” and a bone snapped.
“I remember her being pretty scared,” co-captain Alex Ode said. “Injuries are common at practice, so we never really know how to respond because sometimes it’s something that will keep you out for five minutes, sometimes five months.”
The broken bone turned out to be the fifth metatarsal, which she had broken the previous summer playing ultimate. She thought the injury had fully healed through the previous fall, but this re-injury was a significant setback that required surgery. And the timing couldn’t have been worse.
“Everyone that I ever knew from Cincinnati that played frisbee was like, ‘you’re coming home, this going to be awesome,’” Kaylor said. “Old high school friends, teammates, opponents were volunteering at nationals, and then I broke my foot. So I came home and couldn’t play.”
“It was just, in so many ways a slap in the face.”
Oregon Fugue would go on to compete in nationals, even making it to the championship game before losing to Ohio State – a school many of Kaylor’s friends went to. She was reduced to watching from the sidelines while her injured right foot remained stationary on a scooter.
Now, a year later, Oregon Fugue is heading to nationals for a seventh consecutive year and this time, Kaylor is back on the field in top-form, fueled by last season’s adversity. Along with Alex Ode and Jesse Shofner, Kaylor was selected by the team to be one of Fugue’s captains this season. During her injury, Kaylor said she became well-versed in the nuances of the team from the sidelines.
“I think captaining would’ve been a lot a harder had I not been sidelined last year,” Kaylor said “It’s been a lot easier to examine emotions, the way things play out with certain people and how they react to certain suggestions and criticisms.”
Combined with her leadership and standout play on the field as the anchor of Oregon’s defensive line, the team elected to nominate Kaylor for the 2015 Callahan Award, considered by many to be the most prestigious individual award in college ultimate.
But perhaps even more important than her on-the-field performances, Kaylor’s sportsmanship displayed throughout her injury made her an ideal candidate for the award in the eyes of her teammates.
“She was so engaged with the games,” former teammate Adie Bovee said. “I’m sure that there were moments when she checked out and was down on herself. But publicly, she kept it together.”
Ode added, “Her initial response (to the injury) was feeling like she let the team down, which I think kind of speaks to her character. She always puts the team first.”
As the team makes the final preparations for nationals, which begin Friday and run through Monday, expectations are high for another run at the championship. Kaylor is as motivated as anyone. When adverse situations arise in nationals, as they do practically every year, Kaylor will ground herself, like she’s done all season, when she remembers where she was only a year ago.
“What’s been really important for me this year whenever I’m frustrated, is realizing that this time last year I was just scooting around,” Kaylor said. “Remembering that simple joy of just being able to walk when I got out of the scoot… I’m able to play.”
Follow Will Denner on Twitter @Will_Denner