Healthy Inspiration

NEVER “BACK” DOWN

Written by James Combs

It was a testament to Calista Bennett’s character when she handled the unwelcome news with maturity and grace.

“You can never play volleyball or any other sports again,” a neurosurgeon warned her in June.

When teenagers are forced to give up sports, it’s mostly because of bad behavior or bad grades.

For Calista, it’s due to a bad…

Back? She was not in a car accident and was not born with scoliosis.

“It’s hard to believe this is real because people my age typically do not have bad backs,” says Calista, a 16-year-old junior at Leesburg High School. “I’ve never seen any of my friends go through what I’m going through.”

The back problems started when she was a 14-year-old volleyball player for ST7, a Lake County-based club volleyball team. And even after two lumbar spine surgeries, the shooting pains and numbness in her right leg lingers on.

It may never let up.

“My surgeon told me that I’ll likely always deal with back pain,” she says.

Several magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests confirm that. Calista has spinal stenosis and a degenerated disc at the lowest lumbar level. Several discs above that level are already bulging.

After she underwent her first surgery—a laminectomy and foraminotomy—in April 2015, she returned to the volleyball court as an outsider hitter on the Leesburg High School varsity team. The pain returned, as well. This time, it was unrelenting.

Walking up a flight of stairs caused her right leg to drag. Driving produced radiating pain down her leg, forcing her to pull over on the side of a road and stand up to find relief. Lying in bed was the only after-school activity that didn’t leave her sore and achy.

She underwent a second surgery in June. This time, her neurosurgeon performed a discectomy, a procedure that involves cutting out the herniated part of a disc to relieve pressure off nerve roots.

Two surgeries in 14 months meant giving up the sport she loved. For Calista, volleyball was a family affair. Her parents traveled to every game, and her father stood in the stands and proudly videotaped all her outstanding plays. “

All I wanted to do is play volleyball at the collegiate level,” she says. “I wanted to follow in the footsteps of my sister Mekenzie, who received a scholarship to play volleyball at Lake-Sumter Community College several years ago.”

Calista has accepted that she’ll never fulfill that dream. Today, she is undergoing physical therapy and taking things “one day at a time.” She remains focused—it’s just that she re-focused her goals. Now, Calista hopes to attend college and become a nurse to help others who, like herself, are hurting.

“Life can be difficult and challenging, but you’ve got to maintain a positive attitude and get through the tough times,” she says. “I’m so blessed to have a supportive family that listened to me when I was first experiencing my pain. Other parents would’ve told their kids to suck it up and keep going.”

About the author

James Combs

Akers Media Group's James Combs has been a staff writer for several local publications since August 2000. He has had the privilege of interviewing some of Lake County’s many fascinating residents—from innovative business owners to heroic war veterans—and bringing their stories to life. A resident of Lake County since 1986, James recently embarked on a journey to lead a healthier lifestyle. He has lost 60 pounds and walks nearly five miles a day. In his spare time, he enjoys target shooting, skeet shooting and watching his beloved Kentucky Wildcats!

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